NEW BRITAIN — Religious leaders from all corners of New England converged on South Church Tuesday to urge establishment of universal health care. Despite the denominational mix of clergy, all seemed to agree the system is broken and needs to be repaired or replaced.
Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, said adequate health care is no longer an ethical issue, but a moral one. Figueroa, a former state representative, is on record as saying that state residents are without adequate coverage.
“The system is broken for a majority of Connecticut residents,” he said. His foundation has pushed for health-care measures that achieve quality, continuous and portable health care.
The Rev. Brendan McCormick, president of United Action of Connecticut’s Central Chapter and the event organizer, reminded some 75 participants that studies “repeatedly show that people without health care tend to live sicker and die younger.”
The Rev. George Harris, lead pastor of South Church, said “most of the uninsured have jobs, but simply cannot afford health insurance. Minority folks make up a disproportionate numbers of those who are uninsured.”
Several people volunteered to share why they were attending the meeting.
The Rev. Kathy Peters of the United Church of Chester said she has diabetes and her 60-year-old husband has had numerous hip replacements. However, he can’t afford to retire because they could not afford health insurance.
The Rev. Maxwell Olmstead of Higganum Congregational Church, a United Church of Christ, said the affluent people in his congregation care about universal health insurance. However, he said his church’s middle-class parishioners are “already feeling squeezed financially and fear things will get worse if we go to universal health care.”
Olmstead may be onto something.
The Pacific Research Institute, which has studied the Massachusetts universal health- care law, declared that after one year the law has increased current government spending and the government’s role in regulating the health-care market, decreased individual responsibility to purchase insurance, and made certain that the plan will fall short of achieving universal coverage.
Still, summit participants remain determined.
“We believe this is a moral issue,” said Rabbi Rachel Goldberg of Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester. “Our traditions teach us that all human beings are created in the divine image. The voice of faith communities must be heard so that as justice demands, all residents of the richest state in the country have access to quality health care.”
The Rev. Margaret Payne, bishop of the New England Lutheran Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said change can take place only if people feel they have the power to make a change. She said in New Jersey, after years of resistance, the state “finally did away with capital punishment. Now the time has come for all people to insist on universal health care.”
Those at the summit were serenaded by the youth group, the Main Street Singers, before the meeting ended in prayer. Peters prayed that the Main Street children “would have full health care and never have to attend a meeting like this.”