Faith leaders call on Congress to close Medicaid coverage gap
With the clock ticking toward Congress’ annual August recess, faith leaders convened on Capitol Hill this week to urge Congress to close the Medicaid coverage gap as part of reconciliation legislation.
Leaders also called for advancing racial equity, addressing climate change, higher taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals, and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. But with reports surfacing that the legislation pending in the Senate would not include a provision to help more than two million low-income Americans in 12 states, mostly people of color, access health care, pressure mounted on Senate Democrats to close the coverage gap in states that opted not to do so as part of the Affordable Care Act.
“Health care is a right, not a privilege for the wealthy,” said Mary J. Novak, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, which helped organize a Wednesday morning news conference. “If the Democrats fail to fulfill the promise made by the Affordable Care Act 12 years ago, we will be abandoning our most vulnerable during a continuing pandemic.”
Cindy Ji, Communications Director for the Children’s Defense Fund Texas and member of Southerners for Medicaid, said the promise of the Affordable Care Act “never reached our communities.”
“We live in the poorest states in the nation, states with the highest rates of maternal deaths and chronic illnesses, where more hospitals close each year,” she said. “We know it’s no coincidence that the majority of Southerners in the Medicaid coverage gap are Black, Latino, and other people of color. Many are women.”
Rev. Adam Taylor, President of Sojourners, said access to health care “is fundamental to human dignity and essential to the common good.”
“While we applaud the limited expansion of health care access being discussed in the current reconciliation package, we know that the Senate can and must do much more,” he said.
Bridget Moix, General Secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation, spoke about the need to extend the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. These tax credits, which greatly benefit low wage earners, are not expected to be in the current reconciliation bill, although advocates hope to address them later in the year.
“When the war in Ukraine broke out, we watched Congress move with lightning speed to approve tens of billions for the war,” she said. “Yet we have been waiting for months for Congress to pass funding for programs like the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, which are proven to help create safer, more secure lives for children and families struggling in our communities. This is a moral failure. The crisis of economic and racial inequality in our country cannot wait any longer.”
On Thursday, the Coalition for Human Needs also called on Congress to close the Medicaid coverage gap. CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein noted that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) have announced an agreement to extend ACA premium tax subsidies for three years and to allow negotiations to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
“That is good news, and we need to make sure every member of Congress knows how important it is to get these provisions to final passage,” she said. “But so far it looks like the agreement is leaving out more than two million poor adults without insurance because they live in states that refuse to expand their Medicaid programs. The Coalition on Human Needs calls upon Congress to right this wrong.”
Citing U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey data, Weinstein said earlier this month, nearly one in four people with household incomes up to $25,000 said they were forced to reduce or go without paying for basic needs including medical care almost every month in order to pay an energy bill.
“It is much worse for those at the bottom half of this very low income level,” she said. “Inflation hurts them the most. Lack of medical care during a time of multiple health threats is inhumane. It is also shortsighted, leading to costs and losses we will all incur.”