Faith Leaders Pressure GOP States To Expand Medicaid: ‘This Is A Moral Issue’

Bert Skellie, of Decatur, Georgia., protests for Medicaid expansion CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DAVID GOLDMAN
Bert Skellie, of Decatur, Georgia., protests for Medicaid expansion CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DAVID GOLDMAN

A group of faith leaders from around the country are pressuring Republican lawmakers to stop resisting health reform and accept Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion, saying that extending insurance to additional low-income Americans is a “moral issue.”

Twenty four states are still blocking Medicaid expansion, a move that has denied coverage from some of the most vulnerable residents in the country. On a press call convened this week, religious leaders and health care experts argued that governors and legislatures who are refusing to expand Medicaid expansion will end up on the wrong side of history.

“History has not been kind to governors who stand in front of schoolhouse doors because the children are not the right kind of children, and history will not be kind to governors who stand in front of hospital doors and clinics because people who are trying to get in are deemed politically dispensable,” Rev. Raphael Warnock, who leads Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta — where Martin Luther King Jr. used to serve as a pastor — said on the call.

“This is a moral issue. This isn’t a political issue. This is about helping people,” Rev. Norman Wilson, the senior pastor of Freedom Hall Church of the Living God in Orlando, added. “One thing that is clear in the Bible is that Jesus was in the health care business.”

The faith leaders urged politicians to accept the generous federal funds designated for expanding the public health program. In addition to the human cost of failing to expand Medicaid, states are also losing out on those financial benefits — which is forcing some rural hospitals to close because they can’t afford to remain operating.

Over the past several months, protesters in several anti-Medicaid states have made the moral case for expansion. The “Moral Monday” movement, which originated in North Carolina and was spearheaded by the Reverend William Barber II, has spread to other parts of the country with an eye on health reform. “Moral Monday” and “Truthful Tuesday” activists have been arrested in Georgia, South Carolina, and Missouri for acts of civil obedience in an attempt to pressure their lawmakers to expand Medicaid. And a group of interfaith leaders in Wisconsin fasted during this past Lent, the 40-day period before Easter, to try to urge Medicaid expansion.

Even outside of a specifically faith-based context, proponents of this particular Obamacare policy have begun to frame the issue in terms of human lives. A recent study conducted by Harvard researchers estimated that as many as 17,000 people will die directly as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid. This month, progressive activists with confronted Republican lawmakers with a “GOP death panel” to drive home this point about Medicaid expansion.

“It is not the difference between left and right,” Rev. Warnock concluded on Thursday’s press call. “It is the difference between right and wrong.”