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"A Dying Hope on Easter Sunday Morning" by Reverend Hurmon Hamilton

GBIO represents tens of thousands of people of faith - Jews, Christians, and others - and we have had faith during the past two and a half years as we have worked to help bring health insurance to the uninsured of this state. Now, writing in the language of my own Christian tradition, I must express my crisis of faith in Massachusetts health reform.

As my Jewish sisters & brothers are in the midst of celebrating redemption from slavery (and for whom health reform is a part of freedom), this day is Easter for billions of Christians. By the time you read this blog, I will have joined with these billions world wide celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. For the Christian, Jesus, the resurrected One, is the embodiment of eternal hope. Just when early believers were convinced that all hope was dead, the stone was rolled away and fresh hope walked out alive! How ironic to celebrate this Good News when right here in our own Commonwealth the hope of the survival of real health reform is so uncertain.

One year ago this Commonwealth experienced a miracle that raised the hopes of over half a million folks in our state. Chapter 58, our new healthcare law, promised the day when people in Massachusetts would no longer have to receive overdue emergency room care because they could not afford the monthly premiums of market rate insurance.

Chapter 58 raised the hopes of the uninsured in our state, and also the hopes of millions of uninsured around our nation, as our success forced onto the national stage a fresh healthcare debate. For better or for worse, our success is linked to the future of millions across our country. Yet, one year later, less than a week before the Connector Board votes on a new affordability schedule that may be anything but affordable, the hope and promise of healthcare reform is close to being crucified. And I am not sure of the possibility of its resurrection.

For the public record, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) and our allies in the ACT!! Coalition have done all we know to do to keep hope alive and the promise of healthcare reform real. Two years ago, after working to collect more than 100,000 signatures and after mobilizing the uninsured from our pews and unions, we agreed to support the individual mandate. This was a huge compromise. We agreed to it only because we were convinced that those who crafted the clause really meant it when they wrote into law: “if there is no credible, affordable coverage,” the harsh penalties of the law would not apply.

After 600 GBIO members revealed in affordability sessions that almost half of them could not afford proposed premiums levels, we offered a prudent argument of delaying the penalties for those whose incomes were below $50,000/year for an individual and $100,000/year for a family of four. This delay would not be permanent, but just long enough to find a way not to legally punish the most vulnerable among our poor and moderate income citizens. The leadership of the Connector Board told us that such an approach would destroy the reform because only sick people would sign up - thus driving the price so high that the reform would crash and burn.

So we compromised again, and in conjunction with the ACT!! Coalition and other key stakeholders agreed to place the strength of our organization behind a new proposal. This proposal seeks to make sure that those who are financially vulnerable have access to quality health insurance and are not punished for being unable to afford coverage. We will send this proposal to Governor Patrick tomorrow and hope to continue the dialogue. (click here tomorrow for the text of the letter.)

It has been forecasted that our strategy would insure coverage for at least 80 percent of the current uninsured, in a state that already has the lowest uninsured population in the nation. However, to date, we have no indication that the Connector Board, under the leadership of Executive Director Jonathan Kingsdale, is willing to adopt our commonsense proposal. To the contrary, at last week’s Connector Board meeting, inordinate time was allotted to MIT Economist’s Jonathan Gruber’s alternative point of view which suggests that affordability is simply not an issue for any residents of our state. Gruber’s work tells us that it is a myth that people in the Commonwealth cannot afford $175 premiums, plus 35% co–insurance, plus $2,000 deductibles for individuals and $4,000 deductibles for families.

Gruber and those who follow his line of thinking believe those earning $50,000 a year in our Commonwealth have plenty of money to splurge – how naive of us to think otherwise! They also believe that if these citizens have to choose between paying a mortgage payment and a healthcare premium…well, that’s just reflective of the tough choices mature people make! They assert that saying families cannot afford the premiums plus the small print is a myth! A myth? I dare these voices talk of this myth to those who are among the record number of bankruptcies and foreclosures being filed! I dare these voices talk of this “myth” to those who live month to month—one, two or three paychecks away from homelessness. What is not a myth is that the debt range that forces most into bankruptcy is around $3,000 to $4,000 - the range of current deductibles offered.

So, what irony? As I proclaim this morning that Jesus and the hope he embodies is alive, I am deeply concerned that the hope of healthcare reform is being crucified. We are headed for a major political collision that threatens to unleash such destructive forces as to destroy the hope of reform in our Commonwealth. It is time for the Governor of the State of Massachusetts to step in and help prevent this imminent collision. This is the moment where health reform, which Governor Patrick inherited from the last administration, becomes his own. This is the moment when Governor Patrick begins to show his governing skills and true political allegiance. We need him to step forward now and put the interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at the very center of the critical decision being made by the Connector Board this Thursday. Otherwise, hope of real healthcare reform for our state and perhaps for our country is dying on Easter Sunday morning; and I am dreadfully fearful that once dead, there will be no resurrection.

The Reverend Hurmon Hamilton is President of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

This program aired on April 8, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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