Several Southern Tier religious and health-care leaders united May 14 to voice their concern for those not covered by health insurance.
The interfaith service was held at Elmira’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, in conjunction with the nationwide Cover the Uninsured Week May 10-14. Speakers at the Elmira event stressed the need to publicize that nearly 44 million Americans — 15.2 percent of the overall population — are without health coverage, including 8.5 million children; eight out of 10 uninsured are in working families; non-Hispanic whites make up about three-quarters of the uninsured; and 18,000 Americans die each year because they don’t have health coverage.
Presenters were Dr. Raj Mahajan, an obstetrician-gynecologist with the Twin Tiers Women’s Health Team; Deacon George Welch and Mary Ann Klee, chaplains at St. Joseph’s Hospital; Sister Marie Castagnaro, SSJ, president of St. Joseph’s Hospital; and Kathleen Dubel, justice and peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier.
During the service Dubel passed out postcards to be distributed in area churches. From there, faith-community members are to address the cards to this year’s political candidates, asking them to make health care a priority. Each card states: “Being uninsured means going without care when it is needed. It means minor illnesses become major ones because care is delayed. It means one substantial medical expense can wipe out a family’s bank account. With health-care costs climbing, employers and workers are finding it harder and harder to afford health-care coverage.” Dubel said that any faith community — Catholic or non-Catholic — can get additional postcards by contacting Catholic Charities at 607/734-9784.
Dubel told the Courier that Catholic Charities has been working on this issue for quite some time, based on feedback from public hearings in recent years. “We took the cue from people in our parishes,” she said.
She added that the recent effort is an extension of diocesan Catholic Charities’ top public-policy issue in 2003. Advocates have called in particular for the streamlining of two state-operated insurance options for low-income people, Family Health Plus and Child Health Plus.
New York State Catholic Conference, also, used Cover the Uninsured Week in renewing its call for better health-insurance policies. According to an NYSCC statement, more than 3 million New Yorkers remain without coverage. “As a result, studies show the uninsured experience more severe health problems, limited economic security for themselves and their families, and shorter lives,” the statement said.
“The Catholic Church teaches that every human being is entitled to accessible, affordable, and adequate health care and the means to obtain it,” noted Richard E. Barnes, executive director of the NYSCC, in a statement. Barnes called Cover the Uninsured Week “an opportunity for people of good will to speak out on behalf of their fellow New Yorkers, and for our legislators to support efforts to increase enrollment of eligible New Yorkers in Medicaid, Family Health Plus and Child Health Plus.”