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United Methodists applaud health care summit


4:30 P.M. EST Feb. 26, 2010

President Obama 
discusses health insurance reform legislation with Sen. Mitch McConnell 
(right), R-Ky.  White House photo by Chuck Kennedy.
President Obama discusses health insurance reform legislation with Sen. Mitch McConnell (right), R-Ky. White House photo by Chuck Kennedy.

At the end of the day, the health care summit held in the nation’s capital Feb. 25 produced “more heat than light,” said Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

United Methodist lawmakers and church leaders reacting to the forum applauded President Barack Obama’s effort to debate health care reform in public, but are unsure whether any progress was made.

“I was heartened by the attempt to come across party lines, but I am not persuaded that either side got out of their camps,” Palmer said. “At the end of the day, my hope barometer didn’t move either way.”

Republicans remain opposed to Obama’s proposed health care overhaul, while Democrats vow to push it through Congress.

“We saw today there are areas where Democrats and Republicans agree,” said United Methodist Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican. “However, there are fundamental disagreements that will prevent me and many of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle from supporting this trillion-dollar government takeover of health care, which will lead to rationing and the demise of the doctor-patient relationship.”

United Methodist Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, said the plan must move forward.

“If we take no action, the cost of providing health care will continue spiraling out of control, becoming even more unsustainable for families and dragging down our economy,” Bingaman said. “If we do not enact health insurance reform, insurance companies will be allowed to continue to increase premiums, drop coverage to (those) with pre-existing medical conditions and cap care for the chronically ill. In my view, we have no choice but to move forward with health insurance reform.”

Dr. Jeff Thill, a 
volunteer at Shepherd's Hope Health Center in Orlando, Fla., examines 
patient Geannie Figuereo. <br>A UMNS file photo by Tim Griffis.
Dr. Jeff Thill, a volunteer at Shepherd's Hope Health Center in Orlando, Fla., examines patient Geannie Figuereo.
A UMNS file photo by Tim Griffis.
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Historic moment

“The bipartisan health care summit was a historic moment for Americans,” said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

“There were moments of high political drama during the summit, but we should not lose sight of the most important message sent by a televised summit: that reform of the health care system is an important and critical problem that must be addressed.”

Palmer and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, along with five United Methodist-related organizations, endorsed a letter to Obama and members of Congress before the summit urging them “to take heart and move meaningful health care reform forward.”

Signers of the letter and other faith-based organizations have been advocating throughout the past year for health care reform that ensures good health care is available to everyone. Activities included hundreds of prayer vigils and services across the country, national call-in days, hundreds of meetings with members of Congress, thousands of phone calls and several letters from the faith community to Congress.

Bipartisan perspective

Two groups of United Methodists with concerns about the president’s proposed plan watched the summit hoping the complex issue of health care reform would be addressed without regard to either party’s political affiliation.

“The American people have clearly become frustrated with the lack of transparency in the process and the deals being brokered behind closed doors,” said Liza Kittle, president of Renew, a network of evangelical, orthodox women within The United Methodist Church. “While not all members of Renew agree on every aspect of health care reform, we do believe that this complex issue should be addressed from a bipartisan perspective with the interests of the American people taking precedence over party affiliation.”

Kittle said she and other members of Renew believe any plan should include comprehensive tort reform.

“Hospitals are closing and good physicians are leaving medicine due to the continual strain of frivolous lawsuits, government regulation and declining reimbursements,” she said.

The Rev. Paul Stallsworth, director of the denomination’s pro-life caucus and editor of the newsletter Lifewatch, supported the summit.

“More face-to-face deliberate and substantive debate about health care reform such as this are needed,” he said. “I believe arguments should not be suppressed but should be encouraged to take place in public. I think this shows the democratic processes are working and is just the way we Americans behave politically.”

The Rev. Dave Bean, president of the Oregon-Idaho Annual (regional) Conference, said he remains disappointed in the process, but the summit was at least an attempt by Obama to reach out to Republicans.

“What is needed is bold action in the form of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all type of health care system. This is by far the best way to extend coverage to all, lower costs significantly, improve the quality of care and reflect the love of God in so doing.”

The Rev. Cynthia
The Rev. Cynthia Abrams
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United Methodist position

The United Methodist Church declares “health care is a basic human right.”

The United Methodist Book of Discipline also states: “Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. … Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities … It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community. We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.”

“Since the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles calls health care a ‘basic human right,’ passage of legislation that overcomes obstacles to providing health care to every person at an affordable cost is a step in the right direction,” Abrams said. “My hope is that the summit provides the final push for bipartisan cooperation.”

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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