Religious Groups Call Health Care Reform's Medicaid Expansion a Moral Necessity

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  • Religion
    More than half of respondents to a recent Pew survey said religious groups should keep out of political issues.
  • U.S. HC Policy
    Religious groups, in support of the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, have filed amicus briefs arguing healthcare access for all citizens is a fundamental human right.
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Some religious organizations may have objected to the provision of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul that mandates contraception coverage, but that doesn't mean they oppose the legislation in full.

While political heavyweights such as Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have used the contraception debate to frame Obama as hostile to religious belivers, some of those same people apparently don't oppose toward the president's signature legislative accomplishment.

That was demonstrated last week, when a broad coalition of religious organizations filed a court brief supporting the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Republicans, most of whom oppose the legislation outright, have derided the mandate as a huge spending increase.    

Among those who signed the brief are representatives of denominations including the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church, in addition to Catholic groups such as the Society of the Holy Jesus Child, the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and the Catholic Coalition for Responsible Investing.

More than 60 organizations are listed as signatories, and they've agreed to work as an interdenominational coalition called Faithful Reform in Health Care. The group, composed of national, state and local organizations, aims to promote a shared moral vision for the U.S. health care system, according to its filing.

[We] believe that passage of the ACA, which included important Medicaid improvements and expansions, marked a significant step toward the faith community's long-held vision of a system of health care that includes, and works well for, all, the document states.

The brief argues that there is no legal precedent to suggest that states should be improperly coerced into participating in the Medicaid expansion. The group was responding to the claims of a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court in January on behalf of 26 states that argue the health care law is an illegal commandeering of states' autonomy, due to a provision that, beginning in 2014, states will have to cover Americans who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level in order to stay in the program.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in the case in March.

Yet another religious group, consisting of more than 20 Catholic nuns, filed a brief with the Supreme Court last week in support of the ACA's Medicare expansion. In the group, which represents the leadership of Catholic women's religious orders from across the U.S., wrote their orders have a long history of public service in health care and argue that a civilized society must ensure the provision of basic health care to its citizens regardless of their ability to pay for it.

The ACA's Medicaid expansion is expected to grant health care coverage to about 16 million low-income individuals, according to the White House. Together Medicaid, along with the Children's Health Insurance Program, provide coverage to about 60 million low-income adults, children and individuals with disabilities.

Although the Catholic Church and conservative Republicans were -- and remain -- allies in the contraception debate, the same can't be said about health care. In a message written by Pope Benedict XVI that was read to participants of last November's International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, the pope argued that it is the moral responsibility of nations to guarantee health care access to all citizens, saying it is a fundamental human right.

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