Faith community’s task is to help ensure access to health care

Dec. 22, 2013 @ 03:09 PM

This is the season of Advent in the Christian year.  For those who did not grow up – as I did not – following the liturgical year, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a season of anticipation and waiting for the birth of Jesus.

The North Carolina Council of Churches has supported universal access to health care for decades. So for us this entire fall has also been a season for anticipation and waiting, as we have first been anticipating the opening of the Affordable Care Act marketplace and then have waited for it to work the way it was supposed to work. Sadly its roll-out was marred by technological problems that should not have happened, while its opponents threw every possible roadblock in its way.

But now it seems that the marketplace is mostly fixed, and thousands of people who have not had affordable health care are getting enrolled. And so the N.C. Council is renewing our support for affordable health care for all. While today is the last day to enroll for coverage beginning Jan. 1, the effort to enroll all who are eligible will continue on into 2014. We repeat our call to congregations to do all they can to inform their members about the ACA and to get uninsured and underinsured families enrolled by March 31, when the inaugural enrollment period ends.

Specifically, as we approach the birthday of the one we still refer to as the Great Physician, we are encouraging all Christian clergy in North Carolina to find occasion between now and the end of March to preach on Jesus the healer. There are many passages in the Gospels that lend themselves to this topic. We have worship resources on our website at www.actsoffaith.org or at www.ncchurches.org/aca.

One specific passage has come to be significant to me this fall as we’ve waited for the ACA. It’s a familiar story, recorded in three of the four Gospels, a story many of us learned as children. It tells of the man who was paralyzed and was trying to get to Jesus in hopes that Jesus would heal him, but his access to Jesus was barred because of the great crowd. In the biblical story, the man’s friends carried him up on the roof, made a hole in the roof, and lowered him into Jesus’ presence, where the man was indeed healed.

This Advent, the task for many of us in the faith community is to make a hole in the roof to help those whose access to health care has been barred. And we know that this is already happening. For example, the Rev. Lorraine Ljunggren, rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal, Raleigh, reports that informational programs are being conducted at the church. Christian Faith Baptist, Raleigh, under the pastoral leadership of the Rev. Kenneth Cooper, is hosting ACA navigators provided through Legal Aid of North Carolina. And Martin Street Baptist, Raleigh, pastored by the Rev. Earl Johnson, has conducted programs which have resulted in a hundred or more people being enrolled. 

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church summarized for many of us when she said recently, “We in the United Methodist Church and the larger family of Christians around this world have a deep commitment to wholeness, to healing, and to hospitality.  .  . We believe that in every congregation, our pastors and our lay leaders should be engaged in helping those who worship know how to access health care. This is an important part of what we do as we give witness to the healing grace of God. This is what we do as we acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ as the Great Physician. . . . We do believe that it is God’s intent that all people, that every person, should have access to health care.”

Rev. George Reed is executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches