Utah faith leaders speak out for health-care reform

Policy » They are urging Congress to help expand Medicaid to cover those who live below poverty level.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah church, synagogue and mosque leaders are joining national faith organizations in turning to prayer -- and Congress -- in seeking health-care reform that meets the needs of the poor.

Forty-two leaders of faith communities have signed a letter to Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, urging them to help expand Medicaid to cover everyone who lives below the federal poverty level.

The letter is to be delivered today after a kickoff event at Salt Lake City's Crossroads Urban Center that will "echo" an interfaith service in Washington, D.C. Both are part of the Interfaith Week of Prayer for Health Care.

The Rev. Steve Klemz, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, said faith communities want to reframe the health-care debate.

"These are budget issues that are moral issues as well," Klemz said. "This is what we're called to be: the voice of those who are voiceless."

Klemz belongs to the Coalition of Religious Communities, which is organizing the Utah event and encouraging faith communities to pray and talk about health-care reform during services this weekend.

A spokesman for the Utah-based LDS Church declined to comment Tuesday on why the state's dominant religion is not a part of this interfaith effort.

The Rev. Libby Hunter, a deacon at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Salt Lake City and another member of the coalition, said faith communities are in a unique position on health care.

People who can't afford treatment often turn to their congregations for help, she said. Poor care thrusts many into a downward spiral and often leads to serious medical and financial troubles.

"We have just seen so many people in our parishes and congregations and neighborhoods who don't have access and we've seen what it does to the families," Hunter said. "We're trying to encourage people to speak up. ... It's only when they [congressional leaders] realize it's their constituents who are calling and writing and twittering and blogging that they'll understand how big the problem is."

While the national Interfaith Week of Prayer for Health Care advocates a broad goal -- health care for all -- the Utah coalition argues reform should start by insuring the most vulnerable population, those living in poverty, said alliance director Linda Hilton.

"Expanding Medicaid eligibility to cover everyone under the federal poverty level, regardless of age, ability, or parental status," reads the letter to Utah's senators, "is the easiest way to insure this large population."

At present, Hilton said, Medicaid covers only those who are at 75 percent or less of the federal poverty level.


What's next?

Utah is part of the Interfaith Week of Prayer for Health Care will kick off today at 10 a.m. at the Crossroads Urban Center, 347 S. 400 East, Salt Lake City. Faith leaders will lead prayer and community advocates will explain the difficulties encountered by the poor living without adequate medical care.