Pelosi hails church agency on health reform

3/23/2010

UPDATED 6:00 P.M. EST March 22, 2010 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

The landmark vote on health care by the House of Representatives March 21 affirms The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles that declares health care is a “basic human right,” the top executive of the denomination’s social action agency said.

"For decades, the General Board of Church and Society has worked alongside thousands of United Methodists to achieve health care for all in the U.S.," said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. "This vote brings us closer to that reality."

The majority of United Methodist lawmakers in the House voted against the plan. However, in her closing remarks before the legislation was approved, Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to The United Methodist Church as one of many organizations “sending a clear message to members of Congress: Say yes to health care reform.” More specifically, the Board of Church and Society is included on Pelosi’s Web site listing organizations supporting reform.

While it has historically supported access to health care for all, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly did not act on the specific legislation. General Conference, held every four years, last met in 2008.

Differing opinions

United Methodists, like most Americans, have taken different positions on the basic legislation approved by the House. Opponents of the legislation have cited its cost, its expansion of federal power and concerns that it would reverse past policy by allowing federal funding of abortions.

The United Methodist Church is third among religious groups in the total number of members of the 111th Congress. Among its 44 members in the House, 26 voted no; 18 voted yes.

“There are parts of this bill that are good, including much-needed health insurance reforms and making health insurance affordable for the uninsured,” said Rep. Mike Ross, a United Methodist from Arkansas who opposed the legislation. “On the other hand, many parts of this bill cause me great concern, like telling people they must buy health insurance or be fined, cutting Medicare by more than a half-trillion dollars, increasing taxes and forcing businesses to provide health insurance to their employees.”

Rep. Marion Berry, a United Methodist from Arkansas, said health care reform “must be deficit-neutral and must be fully paid for by squeezing out more savings from the pharmaceutical manufacturers and private insurance industry instead of cramming down hospitals and other providers and taxing Americans.”

United Methodist Congresswoman Laura Richardson of California voted for the legislation.

“While this legislation does not include an comprehensive full public option as the House of Representatives preferred, it is a giant step forward in beginning the reform of our nation’s current neglectful health care system,” she said.

Palmer rejoices

Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops, said he “rejoiced” at the passage of the bill because it aligns with the values of The United Methodist Church.

Though the denomination’s chief legislative body, the General Conference, has taken no stand, it has been a strong advocate for universal health care.

The United Methodist Church in its law book states: “We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.”

The 2008 United Methodist Book of Resolutions adds: “In the United States today, however, fulfillment of this duty is thwarted by simultaneous crises of access, quality, and cost. The result of these crises is injustice to the most vulnerable, increased risk to health care consumers, and waste of scarce public and private resources.”

Resolution 3201 in the United Methodist Book of Resolutions charges the United Methodist Board of Church and Society with primary responsibility for advocating health care for all in the United States Congress. The resolution was approved by the 2008 General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body.

Paul Brown, a senior at Duke Divinity School, called for unity amid disagreement.

“Sisters and brothers, our unity is grounded in Jesus Christ—not in the details of health care reform,” he wrote on the denomination’s Facebook site. “As a church that includes both Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush as members, we are free to disagree on various social issues, but we remain united in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.”

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.