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Coalition preaching universal health care


All Americans should have the right to health coverage, and it is everyone's moral responsibility to guarantee that right, a leader of a national religious coalition told a group of parishioners in Savage last week.

"We have a common understanding and . . . belief that it's a right for people to have universal health care coverage," said Jane Hull Harvey.

She is a member of the Interreligious Health Care Access Campaign, a coalition of about 100 grass-roots and religious organizations that advocate universal health care coverage. Ms. Harvey delivered her message to about 20 people at Savage United Methodist Church on Thursday night.

On the podium and on a nearby piano hung pink placards reading "100 percent" -- the coalition's show of support for universal coverage.

Ray Miles, the church's music director, helped organize the event to give county residents a better understanding of national health care reform.

"I think people are very confused as to what it's all about," said Mr. Miles, who became interested in health care reform after being diagnosed in 1988 with neurological and immune system diseases that cause extreme pain and fatigue and limit him to working a few hours at a time.

"They hear these people on television who say, 'Don't vote for this, don't vote for that,' " Mr. Miles said. "There's all kinds of misinformation out there."

The coalition was created in 1989 during a gathering in Atlanta of 500 religious and grass-roots leaders.

Two years after the conference, the group developed a list of 12 goals that includes health care for all Americans: preventive services, primary and acute care, extended care, rehabilitation and mental health care.

To illustrate the need for universal coverage, Ms. Harvey told the group about her son, Stephan, who suffered from manic depression and committed suicide in 1986 after losing his health insurance. She believes he would be alive today if insurance had allowed him to receive treatment. "In memory of Stephan, I've worked long and hard to make sure everyone is covered," Ms. Harvey said. "We must have universal coverage."

The coalition has not endorsed any of the health care reform bills pending in Congress. But it does agree with many provisions of the Clinton administration's proposed Health Security Act, which would provide universal coverage and require employers to pay 4 percent to 8.4 percent of their payroll to finance the health care system.

"It meets the working principles of the Interreligious Health Care Access Campaign in a way that no other bill does," Ms. Harvey said. "It has the most comprehensive benefits coverage. It's the most progressive in financing."

Although the coalition supports many aspects of President Clinton's health care package, it is split on whether abortion should be covered or whether a cigarette tax should be imposed to help pay for health care.

"There are Catholic and Protestant groups who differ on beliefs about abortion," said Ms. Harvey, a member of the United Methodist Church, which supports a woman's right to an abortion in conjunction with counseling.

The coalition also has not been able to reach a consensus on a proposed $2-a-pack cigarette tax because tobacco farmers have asked some religious groups to reject it, Ms. Harvey said. But the coalition remains committed to the goal of extending health insurance to an estimated 37 million to 40 million uninsured Americans.

"We all have a common belief that all God's children have to have health care," she said.

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