Faith-based organizations show support for health care for legal immigrants

September 14, 2009

~ by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

The timing could not have been better!  On Friday, September 11, nearly 40 faith-based organizations sent a letter to President Obama and all members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives urging that legal immigrants and other vulnerable immigrant populations be included in any national health care plan enacted by Congress.  Protestant Christians, the Catholic Bishops and religious orders, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists affirmed together that “the provision of health care is a shared responsibility grounded in the sacred act of creation and our common humanity.  Universal teachings within the scriptural texts of our diverse faith communities call us to welcome strangers and compassionately care for their basic human needs – including health care.”  View the letter

Health care reform proposals currently impose a five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to receive federal benefits; funding for benefits for undocumented immigrants is explicitly prohibited.  Now, in the wake of an ugly and disrespectful outburst from a member of Congress, there is a move to impose excessive citizenship documentation for federal health care benefits, which historically has done more to create barriers for racial and ethnic minority citizens than serve its intended purpose.  And a big disappointment is that the White House pronounced that undocumented immigrants would not be allowed to purchase health insurance in the proposed exchange — even if paying full price with no government subsidy.  (Are they aware of how many undocumented immigrants already buy their own insurance who could end up uninsured by this action?)

By sending this letter to our President and members of Congress, people of faith seek to rectify the injustice of denying access to health care for legal immigrants and their families.  We affirm that legal immigrants contribute to society, work hard,  pay all the taxes required of citizens, and desire to pay their fair share for affordable health care.  We recognize that uninsured immigrants, like uninsured citizens, are vulnerable.  With no access to preventative care, they too often have to rely on emergency-room care, which is always more expensive and is often too late.  We understand that providing access to health care would ensure healthier immigrant communities, would drive down the cost of uncompensated care, and ultimately would contribute to savings for all of us.  But most important, we ensure that they have what they need in order to live out the fullness of their sacred potential as individuals and as contributing members of our society.

Isn’t it time that we enact public policy based on compassion and justice, not on hate and bigotry?  And isn’t it time that we embrace the heart of ONE human family and, in doing so, reclaim the soul of our nation?

The letter is available as a Word document online for advocates to print and share in communications with their Members of Congress.

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The moral case for reform: Isn’t that OUR job?

September 10, 2009

~ By Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

Waiting in my email box early Wednesday morning was the article Once More, With Feeling: Will Obama (Finally) Make the Moral Case for Reform?.   Melinda Henneberger, Politics Daily Editor in Chief, was making the point that President Obama was going to have to make the all-out case for health care reform as the “right thing to do morally.”

Well, that’s exactly what the President did.  He made the moral case.  His remarks were laced with values like the compassion, common good, shared responsibility, concern for the vulnerable, and better stewardship of our abundant health care resources.  To drive home his point he shared thoughts from a letter written by the late Senator Ted Kennedy. “He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that it concerns more than material thingsWhat we face, he wrote, is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

Well, my question is this:  Whose job is it anyway to be making the moral case for reform?  Why are political editors clamoring for the President to make the moral case?  Isn’t that OUR job?  The only reason I can think of for calling on the President to make the moral case is that those of us who are entrusted with such proclamation are not making enough noise. Like so many others, we’ve been sucked into other spheres of the debate, to the exclusion of the moral imperative.

The economic imperative is what has forced us into our current national discussion about health care reform in the United States.  As health care costs rise faster than general inflation, as medical expenses force families into bankruptcy, as businesses burdened with workers’ health insurance struggle to compete in the global marketplace, and as government resources are stretched thin to provide health care for vulnerable populations, we have finally acknowledged that we must travel into our health care future along a different path.

Likewise, the medical imperative for system reform weighs heavily as 20,000+ people die prematurely each year for lack of needed health care, as more and more people turn to emergency rooms for their health care needs, and as the impact of un-insurance and under-insurance becomes evident in the reduced quality of life for millions.  We know that planning for a health care future which includes everyone and works well for all of us cannot wait.

But moving forward on reform with just these two imperatives clearly isn’t working.  In spite of broad consensus on numerous provisions for reform, we are stymied. In part because of political partisanship, and in part because of ideological differences over how we approach this issue, we find ourselves embroiled in ugly and, at times, violent discord.

It is the moral imperative and the values found therein that can change the complexion of this raucous environment. Reflection around moral values and justice can help move us from a debate that focuses too much on government-run vs. market-driven health care toward one that evaluates public policy as a tool to serve the common good.

If we affirm that truth is witness to the whole, then we know that moving forward without considering the moral imperative will lead only to an insufficient solution for our nation’s health care future. It will be up to us to elevate that moral message.

Toward the end of her editorial Ms. Henneberger said of the President, He’s whispered that we are all our brother’s keepers and our sister’s keepers, but he needs to make it rain, for heaven’s sake; I wanna hear some thunder.  That thunder can be no less than millions of people of faith raising our voices around the moral imperative for health care for all.  It can be no less  than all of us coming together to proclaim that in the sacred act of creation we were endowed with the talents, wisdom and abundant resources necessary to meet the needs of one another — including the health care needs for all.


The Public Option: The Heart of a Moral Vision

September 8, 2009

~ by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

President Obama commented that the public health insurance option is but a “sliver” of the proposals for health care reform.  In terms of sheer numbers he is exactly right.  With the millions of additional persons who will have insurance through the proposed Medicaid expansions and employer mandate, the number of persons who will actually need (or choose) the public health insurance option will be a “sliver” of the number of persons with health insurance in the U.S.

From a moral values perspective, however, a public health insurance option (or something that achieves the same end of truly affordable insurance with comprehensive coverage) represents the heart of these legislative proposals – and the heart of who we are as a nation.  Do we want to guarantee that everyone has truly affordable insurance that provides access to needed health care – or not?

Over the years, we have taken numerous steps toward accepting moral responsibility for our most vulnerable populations. We have recognized that those with the lowest incomes, our elderly, our veterans, and our Native American populations need the support of our collective resources for health care.  And we have responded appropriately.  The crisis facing us now is the millions of persons who do not have employer-sponsored health care, do not qualify for any of these programs, and cannot afford to buy insurance or pay out-of-pocket for their medical expenses.

The public health insurance option is proposed to address that reality.  Reflection on this provision, or a comparable alternative, begins not with the public option itself, but with the proposed individual mandate for insurance. There is broad understanding that such a mandate is a given.  It is necessary to achieve universal coverage, to maximize the risk pool, and to spread the costs accordingly.  It is supported by the private insurance industry because millions more persons will be buying health insurance.  But they have used the individual mandate as a condition for their willingness to eliminate consideration of pre-existing conditions (guaranteed issue) and to accept limits on premium costs compared to payout for claims (medical-loss ratio).

From a faith and justice perspective, health care reform advocates generally have opposed the individual mandates at the state level because they have proven to be unworkable and inequitable. The plans ultimately were too expensive, and government entities simply couldn’t adequately provide sufficient subsidies to make the plans affordable.  The advocacy community has not resisted the proposed federal individual mandates because of the companion provisions – the  Medicaid expansion, the employer mandate, the public option, and the public subsidies.

It is troubling that even with the public option and other provisions, it is projected that several million persons still will remain outside the system because the expansions and subsidies will not likely go far enough in providing affordable and comprehensive coverage.

Even more troubling, however, is that without a public option, or a comparable alternative, it is almost certain that even more persons will not have access to affordable insurance.  Instead, millions could be forced into for-profit private insurance plans in which there are no guarantees that the combined costs of premiums, co-pays and out-of-pocket health care expenses would actually forestall financial hardships for families in need of medical care.

Is it possible to guarantee affordable and comprehensive coverage without a public option?

Download the entire document from which this except was taken — “How the Public Option Measures Up to A Faith-Inspired Vision of Health Care” — at http://www.faithfulreform.org.