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People of all faiths rally at Statehouse to support Medicaid expansion

COLUMBIA – Catholics joined with members of other faiths April 23 to try and convince state lawmakers to support Medicaid expansion that would help more of the state’s poorest citizens gain access to health care.

The South Carolina Christian Action Council sponsored an advocacy day with speeches and prayer at Wesley United Methodist Church and a press conference at the Statehouse. Clergy and lay people were joined in the Statehouse lobby by members of the Midlands’ Jewish and Muslim communities. After the press conference, participants went upstairs to speak personally to their legislators about the issue.

Medicaid expansion, as proposed under the Affordable Care Act, would extend coverage to about 300,000 uninsured citizens in South Carolina. Gov. Nikki Haley and many South Carolina legislators have opposed expansion, saying it would be too expensive because states that accept new coverage would have to pay 10 percent of the total costs after three years of complete funding by the federal  government.The proposal has already been voted down in the state’s House of Representatives.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone has expressed support for Medicaid expansion and recently wrote a letter urging lawmakers and the state’s Catholic voters to do the same.

Sister Judith Ann Karam, president and CEO of the Sisters of Charity Health Systems, said Medicaid expansion would greatly improve the lives of many needy people around South Carolina who either do not seek the health care they need or go to the emergency room for primary medical care because they can’t get it anywhere else. Her organization runs Providence Hospital and other health care facilities in the Midlands.

“This is critical for people in South Carolina,” she said. “We need to set aside politics because this is about people, and they deserve access to health care. We believe in the dignity of the human person. Education is considered a basic right for everybody in this country … why not health care? Health care is not a commodity, it’s a basic right.”

Father Sandy McDonald, a member of the Christian Council’s board and pastor of St. John Neumann Church in Columbia, said Catholic social teaching has “long included a call for access to health care,” and adherence to Scripture demands genuine concern for the poor.

“We must always balance our convictions about the common good with what is economically and politically possible, but expansion of Medicaid offers the best pathway for the working poor of South Carolina to be given care, without which their lives and livelihoods are left in a fragile state …The healthiest of lifestyles cannot always stop the onslaught of so many diseases that devastate and bankrupt good citizen families in our state.”

He called on Gov. Haley and state legislators to reflect on their own religious beliefs and about what God asks of us all in regard to looking out for the least fortunate.

“Why can we not at least try this pathway to health care for families and their employers who are trying to make their way in our economy and who truly need it?” Father McDonald asked. “Does your faith not have something to say to you, not only about the obligation to make a difference on this issue, but to bear the sacrifice it will require of all of us to make it happen?”

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