Obama Admin Connects with Faith Leaders on Health Care Reform

The secretary of Health and Human Services urged faith partners to embrace health care reform in a Thursday conference call.

Kathleen Sebelius and a panel of Muslim, Protestant, and Jewish faith leaders touted Barack Obama's heath care bill in a teleconference to urge religious support for the 2010 reform bill.

"Among our most effective and determined partners are faith and community leaders. No one knows the needs of their communities better than ministers, rabbis, imams and other faith and community partners," Sebelius said. "They are the ones who families turn to when they need assistance and support, and they do so much day in and day out to link their members to services that are available.

"Often faith and community leaders have seen the consequences of a health care system that has failed way too many Americans. So as we build a stronger, more prosperous country we need to be able to count on their leadership."

The HHS secretary highlighted the accomplishments of the Affordable Care Act and encouraged faith partners to point out its successes in their communities.

Episcopal Bishop Barry R. Howe of West Missouri spoke on the call about how health care reform will benefit patients in the Kansas City St. Luke's Hospital where he is board chairman.

"When the full changes of the Affordable Care Act are in place this will certainly help stop this revolving door of people who need basic health care using what has been their last resort: the emergency room of hospitals. And they will have an opportunity to visit doctors and get care in the traditional way that many of us are able to do," Howe said.

For the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Florida's Northland, A Church Distributed, it's more personal. He mentioned his granddaughter's fight with brain cancer to emphasize how the reform bill allows Americans to receive insurance coverage despite a pre-existing condition and receive financial help. Five-year-old Ava Hunter died in September.

"Being a pastor is like being a parent, you are only doing [as well as] the most vulnerable family member," he shared.

The Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, allowed he Rev. Linda Hanna Walling's 20-something parish secretary to remain on her parents' health insurance plan. Walling is director of the Ohio-based organization Faithful Reform in Health Care.

The call was timed to counter the GOP's repeal bill.

U.S. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the reform bill is too costly during the GOP's response to the president's Tuesday State of the Union Address. The reform will put undue pressure on businesses, causing lost jobs and dropped insurance benefits, Ryan and others said.

Republicans and three Democrats in the House voted 245 to 189 Jan. 19 to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They are now pushing the Senate to follow its lead.

Conservative evangelicals and Catholics are calling for the repeal of health care reform out of concern that federal benefits will extend to abortion providers. Conservatives affirmed this desire at the 38th annual March for Life on Monday. There, marchers chanted, "Defund Planned Parenthood."

Sebelius reiterated on Thursday the president's willingness to improve or fix the legislation, but not to scrap the legislation altogether.

"What we can't afford to do is refight the battles of the last two years and return to the past; return to a broken system whose consequences our faith leaders saw each and every day," she stressed.

Bishop Howe urged faith leaders to affirm the Obama reform bill.

"It is very important for us to lead in sharing for our church the affirmation of health care reform and how health benefits are improving the lives of people and protecting all of our citizens," said Howe.

Other faith leaders who joined the call include Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel, Pastor Bishop Roy Dixon of Faith Chapel Church of God in Christ and Reena Singh of Community Catalyst.

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