Renewed Faith Community Universal Health Care Campaign
I. Sacred Tradition and Commitment
The member communions of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA have for centuries been concerned with and deeply experienced in healing and health ministries including innumerable and diverse health care services ranging from major hospitals to clinics in poor neighborhoods to congregation-based health care programs. Our biblical understanding of righteousness is defined by right and just relations among men and women, requiring that we do justice and love mercy in order to keep faithful covenant with God and with one another.
The NCCC, since its founding 50 years ago, has been on record as committed, with its member communions, to universal health care as a sacred tradition, a biblical teaching, and a human right; clearly derived, as well, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 50 years ago as NCCC was being founded. The NCCC, together with its member communions, across the decade of the 90's has been on record as committed to national public policy for universal health care with clearly stated principles including unified financing, comprehensiveness, quality, affordability, and community and personal accountability; to direct support of the Interreligious Health Care Access Campaign; and support of health ministries to actualize commitment and mission for healing community.
II. Urgent Health System Changes Social Impacts
The current availability of health care to all people in the Unites States has been drastically reduced by changes in the private sector organization, financing and delivery of health care and in state and federal health financing policies. The direct result of these changes is that more than 43 million Americans have no health care insurance coverage. Perhaps more than a hundred million people experience serious barriers to access and a working majority of Americans probably now feel vulnerably underinsured.
This poses a grave threat to the people who most need access to health care and who are most at-risk, underserved or ill-served, women and children in poverty and working families; also reflecting glaring disparities of health status and health care access according to racial-ethnic minority and socio-economic status That make this a central issue of civil rights. Threatened is essential, skilled coverage by front line health care workers, most pointedly nurses; most health workers being women, who also carry the major burden of informal family care; as well as a disproportionate number of good jobs for racial-ethnic minorities. That makes this a multiply vital issue of justice for women. It drastically affects the aging and disabled and immigrant/refugee populations.
This poses, as well, a threat to the financial stability of major health care providers and academic medical centers, including historically religious-sponsored, not-for-profit health care institutions and programs and their community missions, as well as vital social safety net hospitals and community health centers. Now that South Africa has a national health system for all, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without a policy of universal health care coverage.
Efforts in the 1990s to rectify the problem posed by rising costs and inequities of coverage by making health care access universal, including with the Interreligious Health Care Access Campaign, were rejected by Congress, fueled by an unprecedented level of media, lobbying and political contributions campaigning. In the aftermath of this rejection, the successor Congress has enacted federal funding cut Medicaid, including the impacts of welfare and immigration reform, has cut back and sought to privatize and "individualize" Medicare. Also in the aftermath we have seen the expansion of managed care systems and the increase of private, for-profit Health Maintenance Organizations and investor-owned health care systems, including vast takeovers of formerly non-profit community institutions and plans. This is amidst a generally acknowledged collapsing of the increasingly market-driven, for-profit, privatized health care system, affecting most Americans.
III. Faith Community Issue Groundwork, Signs Renewed Social Movement
While support for the comprehensive universal health care issue after the early 90's defeat appeared to be off the political agenda, there have been in the last year or so signs of revival of the issue. This includes Year 2000 campaigns issue polling results; national and state-level mobilization around Medicare, managed care bill of rights, and expanding coverage and enrollment for children and working families, including by faith community advocates; as well as newly declared universal health care policy and campaign statements from majority mainstream providers groups, including religious-based. This includes explorations about the opportunities for the potentially watershed Year 2000 elections, especially Congressional, but includes Presidential succession with an early bi-partisan emphasis on the importance of the local faith community as community agents of holistic mission and a growing recognition that health care is a major issue.
The National Ministries Unit of the NCCC, in cooperation with other senior executives and the member communions of the NCCC and the Interreligious Health Care Working Group in Washington, D.C., including staff from many NCCC member communions, has conducted a four year program of civic conversation about health care, convened national consultations with communion health care providers, communion health care insurers, and communion member health care professionals and educators. This also has included major discussions of the issues involved with interreligious partners ranging from neighborhood town meetings to conferences at the United Nations, including a National Interfaith Health Care Gathering at the Methodist Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee in May 1998. The Memphis meeting engaged national leadership as well as grounding with local and state leadership, including local congregation-based health missions and ministries.
Several consultations during Spring, Summer and early Fall 1999 by the National Ministries Unit of the NCCC and other senior executive leadership, working in cooperation with the Interreligious Health Care Working Group, were held further to define the issues and barriers to universal health care coverage. The senior executive leadership of the NCCC, including National Ministries, Ecumenical Networks, Church World Service, and the Washington Office, along with member denominations and associated ecumenical organizations, has met with secular representatives to explore strategies for advocating universal health care access.
This has been explored as part of a popular campaign development that ties together in local activities diverse groups who support the general concept of quality health care for all with democratic principles. This includes explicit support of faith community-based constituencies with education and mobilization at the local congregation and community level and direct engagement of traditional interest group opponents of universal care.
Universal Health Care Campaign
Therefore, Be It Resolved:
The General Board/Assembly of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA:
Policy Base: "Health Care Concerns," Policy Statement adopted by July General Board, Sept. 10, 1971, (reaffirmed by the General Board, May 19, 1989) and Resolution: "Interreligious Health Care Access Campaign", adopted Nov. 14, 1991. [This is essentially a late-breaking resolution of reaffirmation of principles and a call for renewed universal health care campaigning whose longer-term implementation requires renewed resources and responsibility.