[Episcopal News Service] Say what you will about the Affordable Care Act – and many people have a lot to say – it seems fairly likely that enrollment in the program will open as scheduled Oct. 1 and two Episcopal Church-related organizations, National Episcopal Health Ministries and the Episcopal Public Policy Network, are working together to help people understand the complicated law.
That work went on even on Sept. 20, the day that the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives led the passage of a bill to strip all funding for the law that is meant to make preventive health care — including family planning and related services — more obtainable for uninsured Americans.
The bill, which is not expected to pass the Senate in its present form, ties that so-called “defunding” of the Affordable Care Act to needed Congressional action to keep the government operating at its current funding level. (Republicans oppose the ACA because, they say with its requirement that all Americans have some sort of health insurance it will increase health care costs, cause premiums to rise, hurt the quality of health care and raises taxes while adding to the national debt.)
Matthew Ellis, chief executive officer of National Episcopal Health Ministries, was one of five presenters during a Sept. 20 White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships conference call meant to showcase some of the best practices for partnerships that are helping to prepare uninsured Americans to begin signing up Oct. 1 to purchase private health care coverage through insurance marketplaces known as exchanges.
Ellis discussed how his organization has been making information about the Affordable Care Act available to people in churches. Ellis also described the resources NEHM has assembled and the partnership the organization has forged with the Episcopal Public Policy Network, which is part of the church’s Office of Government Relations.
As the call progressed, the White House office released a toolkit about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act geared specifically for use in community- and faith-based organizations. The kit, and other resources, is here.
Episcopal Health Ministries is one of many agencies across the United States that have applied for and received certification by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a “Champion of Care” for its efforts to educate people about how the law will work, and how to enroll for coverage.
The mission of NEHM, a non-profit group that is not an official agency of the Episcopal Church, is to promote health ministry in Episcopal congregations and thus “assisting them to reclaim the Gospel imperative of health and wholeness,” according to its website.
“We are called to care for those who struggle to care for themselves,” Ellis told Episcopal News Service before the conference call. “There are numerous examples of healing in the Bible, so anything that we can do to facilitate that healing process is important for us to participate in.”
Episcopal Church congregations, through their mission work, have access to a lot of people without health insurance, in addition to those members who may be uninsured, he said.
“So, for us to not participate simply because of some political concerns just seems like the wrong thing to do,” Ellis said, adding that the group felt that it was “on firm ground” because the Episcopal Church has a history of supporting the basic principles of health-care reform.
“The way that people access health care in our country is primarily by having health insurance so if we can help more people get health insurance, we going to be really helping our communities and everyone at large,” he said.
“Is it perfect?” Ellis asked of the law. “No, not by any stretch of the imagination but, it is the system we have right now and we need to make sure we’re using it to the best of its abilities.”
To make use of what the law offers, NEHM has encouraged Episcopal congregations to get involved at their own comfort level. For some, it might be simply posting information on a bulletin board, he said. The other end of the spectrum is for a congregation to work with what are known as trained “navigators” who can run workshops and enrollment session at the church. Typically, navigators are trained employees of universities, social service agencies, hospitals, advocacy groups, private businesses and other organizations who may not receive compensation from insurance companies.
Ellis also cautioned against making assumptions in congregations that few if any members will be eligible for the Affordable Care Act. “People lose health insurance or are underinsured for many, many reasons, not all of them specific tied to income or their current employment,” he said.
A congregation might never know whether, after posting information about the HealthCare.gov website on a bulletin board or in a restroom, someone in the church might get insurance because, Ellis said, “most people are not running around advertising that they don’t have health insurance, especially if they look like they should.”
And, Ellis advised be careful about shutting off conversation about the law by the way it is described. “We call it the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “We never, ever, ever refer to it as ‘Obamacare.’”
That is “just such a loaded term whether you are for it or against it” that “if you use the term Obamacare when you’re discussing this, you’re immediately going to set people up to have an emotional reaction,” Ellis said.
The first explains why NEHM and OGR were helping with implementation of the ACA. The second gives more details about NEHM is participating in the implementation and how it has been working for health-care reform.
Ellis commended the NEHM partnership with EPPN, saying the network contacted them to see how the two groups could work on the Affordable Care Act “and it’s been a really terrific partnership.”
The relationship helped NEHM gain visibility for the resources it has been putting together.
“What we always hear about in the church is how our different organizations, our different departments, our different groups should be working together … here’s an example of tow that are actually doing it,” he said.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.