As Republicans work to repeal the health care law, the Obama administration is recruiting faith leaders to reaffirm the law passed in March.
"Being a pastor is like being a parent: You're only doing as good as your most vulnerable family member," the Rev. Joel Hunter said Thursday in a conference call supporting the Affordable Care Act.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hosted the conference call including leaders from several denominations. The HHS Department believes that faith and community leaders play an important role influencing community opinion on the health care reform bill.
Faith leaders on the call seemed to affirm Sebelius' stance that the health care bill is already helping members of their congregations. All affirmed their commitment to educate their congregations about the benefits of the health care reform bill.
"We have been told that it's very important for us to lead in sharing for our church the affirmation of health care reform and how the health benefits are improving the lives of people and protecting all of our citizens," said the Rev. Barry Howe, an Episcopal bishop of west Missouri.
Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Minnesota's Temple Israel shared a personal example of using her discretionary fund to underwrite a woman's desperate need for prescription medicine. "The religious community cannot foot this bill. It has to be the federal government," she said, indicating that the needs are vast.
Hunter said he was "grateful" for the protections the health care bill offered to the vulnerable members of his congregation. He choked up briefly as he spoke about his own granddaughter, who recently succumbed to a rare form of brain cancer. "I cannot imagine adding financial worries of financial ruin to the grief that we had to go through," said Hunter, who is pastor of a megachurch in Florida. "And that's what a lot of our families do. It's just not right from a pastoral standpoint."
A Politico reporter attempted to ask Hunter how he handles division in his congregation over lingering concerns with federal abortion funding, but Hunter did not remain on the call for questions.
Repeal proponents are expected to tackle specific points in the health care bill if full repeal efforts stall, and abortion is expected to become a debate point again as lawmakers also draft replacement legislation to coordinate with repeal efforts. Republicans introduced the No Tax-Payer Funding for Abortion Act last week.
Sebelius reiterated the comments President Obama made affirming the Affordable Care Act in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. "Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let's fix what needs fixing and let's move forward," Obama said in his speech.
However, on Thursday Senators Jim DeMint and Mitch McConnell introduced separate repeal bills following the House's vote to repeal earlier this month. "It's time to start over," DeMint said of health care reform.