An estimated 140,000 people of faith gathered on an historic national conference call with President Barack Obama Aug. 19 to discuss health care reform.
The 90-minute conference call was sponsored by more than 30 churches and other religious groups, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). One purpose of the call was to help launch a campaign — “40 Days for Health Reform” — to mobilize people of faith to press Congress to finish work on health care reform when it returns after the Labor Day recess.
Last summer’s 218th General Assembly (2008) directed the stated clerk to send the following resolution to the United States Congress:
Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us to God, healed all kinds of sickness (Mt. 4:23, par) as a sign of God's rule. Isaiah speaks God's word to say "No more shall there be ... an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime" (Isa. 65:20a). We, as Reformed Christians, bear witness to Jesus Christ in word, but also in deed. As followers of our Great Physician Jesus, we have a moral imperative to work to assure that everyone has full access to health care.
Our nation is in a crisis in health care, which presents an unprecedented opportunity for our nation to provide health care affordable for all. In this country there is a baby born every fifty-one seconds to a family with no health insurance. In this, the wealthiest nation in the world, our infant mortality rate is second highest in the industrialized world. Forty-seven million Americans are uninsured (50 percent employed; 25 percent children; 20 percent out of labor force as students, disabled, et al.; 5 percent unemployed). The U.S. spends nearly twice as much per capita than any other country on health care, but we rank poorly in the thirty-seven categories of health status measured by the World Health Organization. The rise in childhood obesity, asthma, diabetes, and other chronic diseases indicates that the overall health status of people of this country is declining.
We are warned by the prophets not to heal the wounds of God's people lightly; yet in 2006 the aggregate profits of the health insurance companies in the United States were $68 billion. During that same year more than 15,000 families were forced into bankruptcy because of medical expenses. Our business employers operate at a competitive disadvantage internationally because health care costs are assumed by the governments of other industrialized nations. The General Assemblies of the PC(USA) and its predecessors since 1971 have called for reform of health delivery systems in the United States to make them accessible to the entire population. Our federal government already operates efficiently and with low overhead the health delivery programs of Medicare and Medicaid; and yet at the same time insurance companies spend nearly one-third of every premium dollar on marketing and other administrative costs and in fact, several such companies spend less than 60 percent of premium dollars they receive on health care services.
The American College of Physicians, the nation's second largest physician group, has endorsed a single-payer healthcare system. Only a single-payer system of national health care coverage (privately provided; publicly financed; not socialized medicine) can save what is estimated to be $350 billion wasted annually on medical bureaucracy and redirect those funds to expanded coverage.
In a recent statement, the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly, noted that “since the publication of this resolution, the nation has been engaged in an escalating polarization on the issue. Consensus seems far off and the details of how to reach the goal of comprehensive health care continue to confound our country. Yet,” Parsons continued, “consensus as a nation is imperative because reforming our health care system cannot wait. The General Assembly has been clear that Congress must enact comprehensive health care reform that will provide all persons with access to health care services.”
President Obama and his domestic policy director, Melody Barnes, also spoke directly to the moral dimension of the health care debate and acknowledged the important role of the faith community in finally achieving health care reform.
At the conclusion of the conference call, four sponsoring organizations — Faith in Public Life, PICO National Network, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good — issued a statement:
“At every moment in American history when a movement was needed to solve a great challenge facing the nation, people of faith have led. This moment is no different. Today’s call lifted up the inspiring efforts of tens of thousands of people of faith across the United States to promote a civil dialogue and ensure Congress passes legislation in 2009 that makes quality health care affordable for all American families. The call put the focus of the health care debate where it should be — on the needs and voice of American families working to keep their loved ones healthy and their communities strong."