CREDIT: Wayne Rhodes
From the recent media coverage, you might assume there’s only religious opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Some Roman Catholic and conservative evangelical faith leaders and businesses owners continue to attempt to dismantle the contraceptive coverage rule, and at least one of those dozens of lawsuits will probably make it to the Supreme Court. But in reality, the majority of faith leaders and advocates strongly support the health care law. They played a key role in advocating for its passage in 2010 — and in recent months, they’ve been instrumental in spreading the word about Obamacare’s open enrollment period, which begins Tuesday.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has called faith leaders the “trusted partners” in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act because of “their unique ability to reach people, especially the most vulnerable, with the tools and information they need to get healthy, stay well, and thrive.” Clergy are sharing the healthcare.gov portal on church websites, inserting information in church bulletins, and even hosting enrollment events. Nearly 17,000 faith and community groups have attended HHS’s monthly webinars to learn about the law.
Enroll America, a nonprofit group funding a nationwide educational campaign about the health care law, is also working with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and other denominations to hold trainings and information sessions in cities across the country.
At the state level, faith leaders in California, Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico, and elsewhere, have joined health coalitions to help reach Americans in their houses of worship and communities centers. The Campaign for Better Health Care, an Illinois coalition, which has a strong history of partnering with faith communities and a network of more than 1,400 congregations, is continuing outreach efforts this week by holding a conference at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary to help faith leaders navigate health coverage enrollment. The conference will be streamed lived to Chicago-area churches.
Others are drawing attention to the benefits that churches will gain from the law. Gary Skeen, board president of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Church Benefits, is informing Baptist congregations of the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, available under Obamacare. By removing barriers to coverage, SHOP will allow employers who are often forced to pay a higher rate for employees’ coverage to have more affordable options. Skeen says he is “hopeful” that the upcoming SHOP marketplace will “become a viable solution for churches.”
Many faith leaders are urging congregations to put politics aside and keep the uninsured at the center of their efforts.
Michael Ellis, the chief executive officer of National Episcopal Health Ministries — one of the organizations working to help people understand the complicated law — points out that Episcopal congregations across the country have access to a lot of people without health insurance. According to Ellis, “to not participate simply because of some political concerns just seems like the wrong thing to do.” Similarly, the Catholic Health Association, the leadership organization for more than 1,200 Catholic health facilities across the country, is focusing on educating Americans about coverage options. Robin Bachman, the assistant vice president of government affairs at Sisters of Charity Health System in Cleveland, Ohio, explained that “the focus of our advocacy is to reach, raise awareness, and educate all those who are newly eligible for the health coverage that can change their lives.”
Our guest blogger is Eleni Towns, a Research Associate with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.