Local pastors from around the country launched a national campaign Thursday to pressure Congress into quickly finding a way to make health care affordable for every American family.
The pastors who spoke during a media teleconference avoided approaching health care from a political angle. Instead, they repeatedly told stories about congregants who could not afford medication or to see a physician because of unreasonable health care costs.
"As a pastor of an urban congregation, I see the toll unaffordable healthcare has on families. I see parents who have to put off treatment for their children until they wind up having to go to the emergency room," said Pastor John Hay Jr. of West Morris Street Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Ind. "Such an unaffordable system is neither ethically defensible nor morally sound."
Similarly, Pastor Don Marrow of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Bentonville, Ark., criticized the current health care system, saying that he sees week after week congregants who have to choose between purchasing food or medication.
"It is not that Christian should advocate a specific approach or a specific policy proposal, but it is incumbent on us to raise our voices in the name of compassion and community because we are called to care," Marrow said.
Since Thursday, radio ads calling for health care reforms started airing on Christian and mainstream radio in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri and Nebraska. These seven states are considered swing districts or states of Representatives or Senators who may determine the fate of heath reform. The ad will continue to air through next week's Congressional recess.
In addition to radio ads, the campaign includes hundreds of events involving congregations across the country such as public meetings with members of Congress and local and national lobbying efforts.
"We want to remind our Members of Congress that health care is about real people, the people in my pews," said Rev. Rayfield Burns, a clergy spokesperson for the PICO National Network of the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. "Nobody should have to rely on an emergency room for their health care or delay treatment because they lack insurance or have been denied coverage. This just isn't right."
In total, 586 clergies from 42 states and 38 religious denominations have agreed to preach on health care reform and encourage their congregants to call Congress.
Supporters will also organize 130 health care Sundays and events and meetings with 38 members of Congress. Some 10,000 people are expected to participate in the events during the months of June and July.
"God cared about this issue long before it touched any of us," said Rev. Dr. Brent Johnston of First Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Neb. "The health care crisis is now reaching a tipping point. With so many uninsured and underinsured, it is coming into our national conscience. But it reached God's attention long ago – with the first uninsured person."
Congress is reportedly feeling greater pressure to quickly pass a health care reform bill after the release of a study that shows the number of uninsured Americans could rise to more than 65 million in 10 years as health care costs are predicted to more than double, as reported by Reuters.
According to the report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an independent health care research group, uninsured Americans could increase to 57.7 million by 2014 and to 65.7 million by 2019.
The uninsured Americans in these figures would include many in the middle class as well as some in high-income families, the report states.
Adding to the pressure for a health care overhaul is President Obama who has stated early in his presidency that finding a way to offer medical coverage to nearly all Americans is among his immediate priorities. Obama has told Congress he wants a reform bill passed into law by the end of the year.