Faith leaders convene on "moral issue": Medicaid expansion

Faith leaders came together on a conference call on May 29 to discuss the urgent need to expand Medicaid in the United States, in order to prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths.

According to a release issued by Faith in Public Life, a strategy center for faith leaders working for compassion and social justice, “twenty-four states have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving 5 million Americans without health insurance.”

“Studies have shown that failing to expand Medicaid will result in as many as 17,000 preventable deaths,” said Rev. Jennifer Butler, founding chief executive officer of Faith in Public Life, who also moderated the call.

The leaders discussed the potential harm caused by states’ officials who refused Medicaid expansion, and they reported on their own efforts to push forward legislation for expansion, in their respective communities. Nearly all the speakers repeatedly referred to Medicaid expansion as a “moral issue.”

Call participants included Sr. Carol Keehan, chief executive officer of Catholic Health Association; Rev. Norman Wilson, senior pastor at Freedom Hall Church of the Living God in Orlando; Rev. Susan McCann, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Liberty, Mo.; Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta; and Professor Jonathan Gruber of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act and healthcare reform in Massachusetts.

A recording of the full conference call is available. Other highlights included:

“This is peoples’ lives at stake,” Keehan said. “Quite frankly, when we listen to our Lord say so clearly, ‘What you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me,’ and keeping the least and the most vulnerable in our population, in the richest nation in the world, from having healthcare that is 100 percent paid for already, just doesn’t make sense.”

The federal government has given the state of Florida $51 billion that would insure 1.2 million Floridians that do not have healthcare currently, according to Wilson, also a leader with PICO United Florida, an affiliate of PICO National Network. “The only reason the state of Florida hasn’t taken this money is because of partisan politics,” he said. “The money that the federal government is giving to the state of Florida, it’s the state of Florida’s people’s money anyway because it’s taxpayers’ money.” Wilson called on Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott to have a special session to pass Medicaid expansion so that 1.2 million Floridians will be covered.

McCann, a leader with Communities Creating Opportunity, another affiliate of the PICO National Network, cited studies that show in Missouri, since 2005, life expectancy is going down in one-quarter of the state’s counties. According to McCann, every year, 750 people die in Missouri because they lack healthcare. Medicaid expansion would reach an additional 300,000 Missourians. McCann said that Missouri’s faith community is standing up “in unprecedented ways.” “We’ve met with legislators both in Jefferson City and in district, we’ve met with both sides of the aisle and with the governor, and we’ve participated in civil disobedience and a number of us have been arrested,” she said. Despite the Missouri legislature failing to expand Medicaid, she said the faith community’s efforts are bearing fruit. “Last year, one firmly opposed Republican senator completely opposed Medicaid expansion, this year he championed it,” she said.

Warnock, a leader in the Moral Monday Georgia movement, a multiracial, multi-issue coalition of citizens working for positive change for the public good, spoke about how Georgia had the fifth highest number of uninsured individuals in the nation, about 600,000 Georgians. “These are not numbers, these are our neighbors,” he said. Warnock said that he and others have gathered at the state capital and governor’s mansion, calling for Medicaid expansion. According to Warnock, expanding Medicaid is right morally and smart economically. “By expanding Medicaid in the state of Georgia, we would create about $65 billion of new economic activity in our state.” The Medicaid expansion would then support about 58,000 new jobs over ten years.

Regarding the refusal of Medicaid expansion, Gruber said, “it’s a crime against humanity, it’s a crime against economics, it’s a crime against basically good public policy, and the only way it can persist is if the voters remain uninformed about what’s being done to them. An informed electorate would simply not let this happen.”


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