Missouri religious leaders voice support for health care reform

Thursday, August 27, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:10 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 3, 2009

COLUMBIA -- The Missouri IMPACT Board, an ecumenical and interfaith legislative advocacy network, declared its conviction that health care is a basic human right, according to a letter signed by 17 religious leaders.

The board consists of members from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), United Methodist Church and Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri, among others.

"God desires health and wholeness, God wills shalom," said the Rev. Dr. John H. Bennett, Missouri IMPACT outreach coordinator. "Therefore, health care should be available to all. That's rooted in our faith tradition."

The letter also said that advocating for quality and affordable health care is "a moral imperative," and that the board supports legislation that would allow people to choose an affordable private or public health insurance plan.

Bennett said that while the letter was new, the stance was not.

"We drafted the letter recently, but our policy on health care has been in existence for several years," he said.

Bennett also said the opening prayer for Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's town hall meeting Wednesday night in Jefferson City. He said the letter released by the board was in response to the health care debate in general and not toward any proposed legislation. He said Obama's proposal was "generic at this point," and that he is waiting to see what bills might be later released.  

The stance is part of a national show of support by some congregations and faiths for health care reform. More than 140,000 people from a plurality of faiths tuned into a health care call-in Aug. 19, according to a press release from Faith in Public Life, offering anecdotes of struggles paying health care bills and moral incentives to support health care reform. 

"We chose to work with other faith-based communities to build nonpartisan grass-roots support for reform all across Missouri," said Rabbi Susan Talve, founding rabbi of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis . "As we listened to each other we realized that despite the differences in our religions and our urban and rural divide, we all had common ground ... about the broken health care system."

"I believe that nobody in America should be denied basic health care because he or she lacks health insurance," President Barack Obama said during the call-in.

The Rev. Cynthia Hale led the call-in with a prayer. "We pray our president and Congress may be guided by compassion and visionary leadership in our nation's quest for health care reform," she said.

McCaskill was in Moberly on Monday as part of her series of town hall meetings across the state on health care reform.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Education and Labor Committee, the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee played roles in developing legislation for health care reform. McCaskill said there are three bills that have come out of committee in the House, one bill from a committee in the Senate and another bill from the Finance Committee in the Senate, so a definitive piece of legislation is not yet complete. 

"I will tell you that every single piece of legislation I vote on I try to look very carefully based on the policy," McCaskill said.


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