Faith leaders gathered Tuesday evening in Richmond to press the case that the provision of health care for all Americans is a moral imperative.
Last week’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld subsidies for people buying health insurance on state- and federally run insurance exchanges was lauded as a victory for millions of low- and middle-income Americans.
But millions more, some of the poorest, are still without — falling in a coverage gap in states like Virginia that did not expand Medicaid to provide health coverage for more of the poor as the Affordable Care Act intended.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is one of the most important religious teachings, said Rabbi Gary Creditor of Richmond.
“In Judaism things can be either an option or an obligation. That’s an obligation, not an option,” he said. “When we talk about the gap in medical coverage ... it’s not an option for society from a religious perspective to debate the question. It’s an obligation upon society to fulfill it.”
Tuesday’s program, presented by advocacy group Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare, was held at the Weinstein JCC and drew about 100 people.
“For us, a Catholic community of faith, we are called to respond to the needs of others,” said Emmanuel Carreño Garcia, social ministry coordinator for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond’s eastern region.
“We view our neighbors as we view Christ. That is our goal, to promote our faith in a way that we allow ourselves to give ourselves away. In the matter of health care, perhaps there are some people who are afraid of failure.
“Virginia is looking in the future and saying this system might fail in the future. But the immediate need is now. There are thousands of people who don’t have health care.”
Dr. Abu Qutubuddin, a physician and president of the Islamic Center of Virginia, said that in Islam the body and health are blessings bestowed by God. “Taking care and proper care of that health is our daily responsibility,” he said.
In the Baptist faith, “God wants us to love and protect” all, said the Rev. Sidnée Dallas, a nurse manager and member of Trinity Baptist Church in Richmond.
Tuesday’s program began with a short video of a “60 Minutes” segment from August 2014 on the Health Wagon, a mobile health van that operates in Southwest Virginia. Nurse practitioners Paula Meade and Teresa Gardner, featured in the segment, talked last night about their ongoing work to bring health care to some of the poorest people in the state.
Meade said two of the four patients featured in the segment have since died — a woman with lung and brain cancer and a young man with diabetes.
“When they come to us, they have been without insurance,” Meade said, speaking generally of their patients.
“It is a moral imperative,” Meade said, borrowing words from the title of the program.
Gardner said there are times when they can’t accommodate everyone and worry about those who are turned away, wondering if they are turning away someone with cancer or heart problems, for instance.
“What are we turning back?” Gardner said.