The White House recognized National Episcopal Health Ministries Sept. 20 for its work to educate Americans about changes to health care that will occur during implementation of to Affordable Care Act. The implementation is scheduled to begin implementation Oct. 1.
Matthew Ellis, NEHM’s chief executive officer, was one of four panel speakers during a conference call convened by Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The conference call was a private event for the directors of organizations committed to volunteering time and resources toward helping ensure a smooth transition period. The transition period will conclude December 31.
The conference call required preregistration and reached its 1,800-participant limit several days beforehand, according to Ellis who spoke to TLC shortly after concluding the call.
“This is a law which was passed by both houses of Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court,” Ellis said. “We should be focused on making this work for as many as possible.” There is a financial incentive for choosing a plan and enrolling before Dec. 15, he said citing one of the lesser-known aspects of the law.
Ellis said that even though he supports the ACA and the Episcopal Church has spoken out on a number of occasions in favor of greater access to health-care coverage, he is aware that “many, many” other Episcopalians do not believe the ACA was a good idea. Ellis said the Episcopal Church will need the support of the law’s skeptics if NEHM’s resources and programs are to work well. Many of those who object to the law volunteer in soup kitchens or help with other poverty-alleviation and health programs, he said.
“If things are not perfect on Oct. 1 that doesn’t mean it won’t improve,” Ellis said. “It’s a huge, complex, new system. It will take time, but everyone has a vested interest in making this work.”
During the conference call, Ellis reported that the White House was counting heavily on faith-based organizations and neighborhood partnerships to help enroll uninsured persons. Churches and neighborhood shelters often have more frequent contact with the uninsured than anyone.
Rogers cited a recent poll by The Washington Post that found 40 percent of Americans currently uninsured were largely unaware how the ACA would affect them. Estimates of Americans who lack access to adequate health insurance through an employer number as large as 40 million.
“There are an awful lot of questions,” Ellis said. “[The Episcopal Church] is trying to cut through the noise and point people in the right direction. Our concern is for the church to have a role helping those who may not be computer-savvy or who might be in a vulnerable economic population.”
Speaking through its General Convention, the Episcopal Church has a long history of support for expanding the number of Americans with access to safe and affordable health-care coverage. It has approved various resolutions pertaining to health-care coverage and access during each session from 1976 to 2012. NEHM’s mission is “to promote health ministry in Episcopal congregations, assisting them to reclaim the Gospel imperative of health and wholeness.”
Ellis said that one way congregations, especially those with feeding programs, can help is to post information directing people to phone numbers and websites where more information is available. NEHM’s website is updated several times a week. Stopping to assist persons with questions or special needs is also critical.
In addition to material prepared by NEHM, the White House Office of Faith-based Organizations and Neighborhood Partnerships has prepared extensive instructional and promotional material, available at hhs.gov/partnerships.