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Group of religious leaders calls for health care reform


A broad-based coalition of religious leaders announced its support yesterday of sweeping reform of the state's health care system that would provide coverage for more than 800,000 uninsured Marylanders.

More than 200 faith-based groups, including individual congregations and most major denominations, introduced a Declaration of Health Care Independence calling for quality, affordable health care for all Marylanders.

"Quality health care ought not to be a privilege for the few but a right for everybody," said the Rev. Arnold Howard, representing the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Greater Baltimore Clergy Alliance. (Other supporting groups include the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Baltimore Board of Rabbis.)

Howard said that having 1.6 million uninsured and underinsured people "is a sin in a nation such as ours."

The Rev. Donald S. Stewart, representing Methodist Bishop Felton Edwin May, used a biblical appeal.

"Jesus Christ told of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep in search of the one that was lost," he said. "If part of our community is hurting and lost because they lack access to basic health care, then the entire community suffers."

The Maryland Citizen's Health Initiative, which is leading the effort, is not advocating a specific proposal, but is building momentum and support in the hope of making health care reform an issue in the state legislature in 2002. It has enlisted the support of more than 750 religious, community, labor and health care groups.

A study commissioned by the group showed this year that two possible plans would save money. One, a similar to Medicare, would cover everyone under a government-run health agency. The other plan would keep the government-run system but allow private companies to opt out and keep existing health coverage.

Vincent DeMarco, the coalition's executive director, successfully mobilized the religious community in past years to help pass anti-gun and anti-smoking legislation in the General Assembly.

"On both the gun and tobacco issues, nothing could have happened without the religious communities mobilizing, bringing people together and making the policy makers listen," said DeMarco, who attended the news conference. "Similarly, quality health care for all Marylanders is going to happen because the faith community demands it."

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