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Healthcare is ‘national dilemma’; ‘vigorous debate’ ahead, Land says

WASHINGTON (BP)–Universal access to healthcare is a crucial issue America needs to address, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said March 11.

The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission joined with other religious leaders in an attempt to bring attention to what he called a “national dilemma,” the millions of Americans who do not have health insurance. More than 41 million people, including 8.5 million under the age of 18, had no health insurance during 2001, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We have come to the time when we must decide whether or not every American should have access to healthcare,” Land said in a prepared statement. “The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission believes it is inconceivable that a nation so blessed by God and so dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal would decide that some among us should not have access to the basic building blocks of a better life.

“While healthcare is not the only fundamental need of human beings, it is certainly one of the most important,” Land said. “A healthy person can work harder and longer, can enjoy life more fully and can care for his or her family more effectively than someone who is constantly battling illness. Children can learn better and grow stronger and can contribute more effectively to our nation’s future in coming generations if they are given the opportunity to live healthy lives. What is more, we believe that God is honored when we help the weakest and most needy.”

Land joined with representatives of numerous other organizations — including the National Council of Churches, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Salvation Army, Congress of National Black Churches, Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Islamic Society of North America — to focus attention on the problem in an open letter to the American people.

The religious leaders acknowledged there is widespread disagreement among themselves on a variety of issues, including how to address this one. “[M]any of us have very different ideas about where to start,” Land said, “but we all believe that something must be done.”

The call for a national effort to reduce the number of uninsured people came as part of Cover the Uninsured Week, a March 10-16 effort sponsored by numerous health organizations and foundations, led by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In a March 11 telephone conference call including reporters and religious leaders, Land said “the role of the faith community is to call the nation to be their brother’s keeper and to say this is an unacceptable level of pain and suffering. … [I]f we are able to raise this to a critical mass, we will see a very vigorous debate in the presidential campaign and many Senate and House campaigns [in 2004]. What we can do in the faith community is make certain this gets on the radar screen and high on the radar screen.”

Numerous proposals have been offered in Congress to expand health coverage. President Bush’s initiative is based on tax credits.

The Census Bureau apparently did not report how many uninsured Americans are young people who chose not to pay for coverage though they could have afforded it. Young people age 18 to 24 are the least likely of any age bracket to have health insurance, with less than 72 percent having coverage, according to the Census Bureau.

Information on the campaign is available at www.covertheuninsuredweek.org.