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"Health Care Reform: Where do we go from here?" by Reverend Hurmon Hamilton, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

Two and a half years ago, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) began to discern whether we should engage in a campaign to expand access to quality, affordable health care to the more than half a million residents of Massachusetts who were, at that time, uninsured. This discernment led us to affirm that everyone is precious and deserving of healing (Genesis 1:27). We recognized that our calling is not only to preach but to act for the health and wholeness of our community (Matthew 9:25). And we affirmed what the 12th century physician, philosopher, and theologian Moses Maimonides taught — that a public system of health care is the moral obligation of any just community.

Firmly grounded in these beliefs we endeavored to act, with our partners in the ACT! and the MassAct! Coalition, to ensure the passage of sweeping state-wide health reform legislation. Chapter 58, the reform legislation that was signed into law in April 2006 is truly reform for which we can be proud. For our state's poorest residents, this bill is quite possibly the best piece of legislation passed during the past ten years. It is also a boon for working and middle income families. Let's break some of the numbers down:

• 600,000+ seniors, disabled people and legal immigrants had dental and eyeglass benefits restored .

• 65,000 who earn less than 100% of the federal poverty level (about $10,000 for a single person) are now eligible for quality private plans with no deductible, no premium and very small co-pays.

• Sliding scale subsidies are now available to assist 150,000 between 100-300% of poverty (300% = $57,000 for a family of four) to purchase the quality health plans with no deductibles and very small co-pays.

• 27,000 children in households between 200-300% of poverty now qualify for the State's Mass Health program.

National Public Radio News Analyst Daniel Shorr referred to the passage of this reform bill as political maturity. Compromises were made by all stakeholders involved. And powerful players with important political agendas – namely House Speaker Salvador DiMasi, Senate President Robert Travaglini and then Governor Mitt Romney – all figured out how to make reform work for their own self-interest.

If political maturity was required to pass reform, it will be required again, in even greater measure, during the months ahead. Critical questions are currently being answered about the implementation of the individual mandate (one of the bill's most controversial provisions) — how do we implement the mandate fairly and equitably, and how do we get health insurance to people in the middle – those who make too much to qualify for Commonwealth Care, but not enough to afford anything else? Will the people of Massachusetts be required under penalty of law to purchased stripped-down insurance? Will low-and-moderate-income families be forced into debt to buy these plans as the insurance companies profits soar?

In answering these questions, we have a bias. Ours is the bias of the people of Massachusetts. We want to be able to buy good health insurance that we can afford alongside all of the other expenses of living in this Commonwealth. We don’t want our employers to drop benefits from our plans. We don’t want to be forced to buy stripped-down insurance that still leaves us vulnerable to medical debt. We don’t want to be penalized on our taxes for having budgets too tight to pay what a board of executives imagines we can afford.

That is our bias. It is a bias that favors those whose lives this legislation was meant to improve. Frankly, we think it’s the bias all of the players in health care reform – Governor Patrick, the Connector Board, the insurance industry, and the business community – should adopt. The real lives of real people should permeate the debate now taking place, and these lives must receive more weight than what any business plan, cold actuarial table or profit/loss analysis receives.

GBIO remains committed to the fight to ensure that every resident of our Commonwealth has access to quality, affordable health care. Our faith provides a vision for us of the possible and an imperative to be part of building a more just and healthy world.

This program aired on February 28, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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