Health Care Reform is Urgent Given Economy, Religious Leaders Say

Top religious leaders from diverse faith traditions came together Tuesday and urged the White House and Congress to make health care reform an urgent priority because of the current economic conditions.

Nearly 30 leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Faith Leader Summit on Health Care where they discussed best practices, identified common ground and shared expectations for health care reform legislation.

Throughout the day, they held official meetings with government leaders including Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and others, including Joshua DuBois, special assistant to the President and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Many of the Summit participants signed a statement that highlighted the more than 45 million Americans who lack health coverage and the many more Americans who are worried about keeping their current health care plan.

"Rising unemployment, underemployment and a decline in employment benefits have deprived many more of health care," the statement reads.

A recent report by an independent research group warns that the number of uninsured Americans could increase to 57.7 million by 2014 and to 65.7 million by 2019.

To respond to the growing problem, leaders from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities came together to act as a collective moral voice of support for comprehensive health care reform.

"No longer can we afford to squander the hopes and dreams of the American people through a much-too-costly system that contributes to economic despair," the statement says. "Families and individuals must be able to rely on affordable care in times of illness or accident and preventative care to safeguard health and well-being."

In recent months, Congress has felt the mounting pressure to pass a reform bill as the American public became more vocal about their demand for new health care policies.

Two months ago, local pastors from across the nation had launched a national radio ad campaign on Christian and mainstream radio to call for health care reforms. The radio ads coincided with other grassroots events including organizing hundreds of clergies in 42 states to preach on health care reform and encouraging their congregants to call Congress.

President Obama has also added pressure saying that health care reform is among his top immediate priorities and that he wants to find a way to offer medical coverage to nearly all Americans.

Some of the leaders that attended the health care summit included the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Jim Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society; Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; the Rev. William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA; Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of Jewish Council for Public Affair;, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement.

The summit was sponsored by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and the United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society, in collaboration with Families USA and the National Coalition on Health Care.