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A photo of Lisa Carter is available via By KAY CAMPBELL c. 2009 Religion News Service HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Congress may be on summer recess, but Americans who are motivated by their faith are joining the conversation over changing the way that health care is paid for in the United States.
The Huntsville Chapter of Health Care for Everyone-Alabama, for example, includes many who are motivated by their faith to support ways that Americans can work together to make sure that everyone has access to affordable health care.
It’s an urgent need here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, where statistics show Alabama has one of the nation’s highest rates of infant mortality — in part, experts say, due to mothers’ poor health care.
Dr. Pippa Abston, a deacon at United Church of Huntsville and a physician who has helped organize health care for the homeless, said her own concerns are a natural outgrowth of her faith.
“From a Christian perspective, it’s completely clear that we are to take care of each other and to take care of the sick,” Abston said.
“Cost-effectiveness just doesn’t figure into the biblical formula.”
But Abston sees cost-effectiveness as part of the practical results of universal health care, too. She points to how chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, can be fairly inexpensively managed versus the costs of a person whose untreated blood pressure results in a massive stroke that catapults them into disability.
“And, of course, we pay for that,” Abston said, referring to Social Security’s disability programs. “I think there are a lot of costs to doing it this way (under the current patchwork system) that people aren’t considering.”
Abston shakes her head at the thought of people needing to band together to raise funds through bake sales and raffles for children who need treatment for catastrophic conditions like cancer or injury.
“This (current system) is a very inhumane way of doing things,” she said.
The current system, says public health nurse Lisa Carter, also perpetuates costs for generations.
Carter collects data on infant deaths from 12 counties in northern Alabama for the state Department of Health. Part of the reason for the state’s high infant mortality rate, Carter says, is the number of babies born to mothers who do not have ongoing health care.
“The trend I’m seeing in the numbers is that low birth weights are driven because women are bringing untreated chronic medical problems into their pregnancies — hypertension, diabetes,” Carter said. “More than 50 percent of babies are born to mothers on Medicaid.”
But Medicaid, she says, only covers the mothers after they get pregnant, not before, and only until the birth of the child. And children who are developmentally behind at birth cost more — through more hospital costs at birth, educational needs and often throughout their lives.
“The cost of premature babies in 2005 was $26 billion,” Carter said.
Carter is on the Church and Society Committee at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville. The national United Methodist Church has been one of the early strong advocators for universal health care.
“As Christians, we are responsible for creating the conditions in which health can thrive, both privately and publicly,” Carter said.
Methodists, Presbyterians, Reform Jews and the United Church of Christ are among denominational groups that have endorsed Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers’ bill to expand Medicare. Interfaith leaders recently met with President Obama and members of Congress to encourage similar changes in health care.
Meanwhile, other Christians have also been vocal in opposing health care in a flurry of e-mails that warn a new system would encourage end-of-life euthanasia and make abortions too easy to obtain.
The Family Research Council, a Washington-based Christian conservative group, recently launched television ads claiming proposed changes would result in “our greatest generation denied care, our future generation denied life.”
But most arguments against proposed changes attack how such a plan would be administered, not whether or not access to basic health care is a moral concern.
“Perhaps the truest thing I can say about the God of the Bible is that he is for the poor. Not just a little,” lawyer and minister Oliver Thomas wrote recently in USA Today, after surveying teachings in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Carter said she couldn’t agree more.
“As faith-based people,” she said, “we have a responsibility to assist and advocate for conditions in which health can thrive.”
(Kay Campbell writes for The Huntsville Times in Huntsville, Ala.)
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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