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Rell Not Responding To Clergy Call For Health Care Reform

Susan Campbell

March 15, 2009

When Davida Foy Crabtree was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer, her treatment called for chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. The bill ran into the tens of thousands, of which Crabtree's health insurance paid all but a fraction.

Stephen Fuchs recently found himself in need of emergency dental work. It's not so dire a situation as Crabtree's, but a painful malady that was affordable, given the family's health insurance. Both Fuchs, a senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, and Crabtree, a conference minister at Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ, know people not blessed by health insurance. Daily, clergy members are called to families who must choose between putting food on the table or buying prescription medicine, between paying rent or making a doctor's appointment.

The long-term cost for inadequate or no health care coverage is staggering. A Harvard study said that medical debt plays a part in half of all bankruptcy cases. According to the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, 22 percent of Hispanics and 16 percent of African Americans in the state can't afford needed health care. Over all, 10 percent of the state's residents in the Insurance Capital of the World have no health insurance. Most of them are working.

Crabtree, Fuchs and others are members of the Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care, an unusual collaboration of clergy that crosses faith boundaries. As Fuchs has said: You can find vocal disagreement among the members on all kinds of hot-button issues, but on this one, they agree:

Accessible and affordable health care is a matter of faith. And they want to talk to Gov. Rell about their proposal for universal health care. So far, she has not agreed to meet.

But be forewarned, Governor: Clergy are persistent.

The group is proposing SustiNet, a program of the Universal Health Care Foundation that builds on current health plans of state employees, as well as the state's HUSKY plan. The program emphasizes preventive care, and reduces out-of-pocket costs to policy holders. (More details are at www.universalhealthct.org.)

A little more than a week ago, Fuchs, Crabtree and roughly 140 other like-minded clergy and religious folk marched to the state Capitol to ask to talk. They wore clerical collars, suit coats and hijabs, and chanted and carried signs that said "Muslims for Health Care," and "Health Care For All."

Inside the Capitol, people read from "Voices of Healing: Personal Testimonies and Reflections," a collection of essays by Interfaith members. They wanted to deliver a letter to Rell asking for a sit-down; she sent a spokesman who politely received the letter outside her office instead.

But polite doesn't cut it. When people don't have health coverage, they go bankrupt. They rely on hospital emergency departments and rack up bills that someone has to pay sometime, somewhere. This is not a sustainable system.

How universal is the crisis? Clergy members don't have to look outside their fellowship to find people who are hurting. Rev. Jose Felipe Santiago's wife has been ill, and the family can't afford health insurance for her. As a Korean War veteran, Santiago, in his 80s and senior pastor of Iglesia La Nueva Cosecha de Dios in Hartford, can use the VA. His wife cannot.

As Chaplain Bilal Ansari, of Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, wrote in "Voices": "My faith mandates that I desire for others what I desire for myself."

On that, we can agree. Gov. Rell, meet with these people.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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