News & Media

Fear not, Congress

Health Care Access

January 25, 2010 | Washington Post, On Faith; Guest Voices

Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP), PICO National Network

By Rev. Heyward D. Wiggins
Pastor, Camden (N.J.) Bible Tabernacle Churc
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As a pastor, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work closely with many people going through major life changes. Through my experience, I have learned that change is oftentimes what people most want but also most fear. As we all know from our own experience, the unknown can be both exhilarating and frightening at the same time.

I have also learned that, amid these moments, my role as a pastor is to be present to people, to appreciate their emotions, but to also be a calm, steady source of faith and belief that they can get through this, and that, just maybe, there will be a blessing hidden somewhere in it. People need leadership to help them move through their most difficult moments and actually see the tremendous opportunities that may be staring right at them for positive change. If we let fear derail change, then we'll never get anywhere.

Maybe this is why one of the most widely used phrases in the Bible is: "Be not afraid."

Looking at the past year's debate over health care reform, and where we now find ourselves after the special election in Massachusetts, I cannot help but feel that our nation is going through exactly one of these crucibles of change. And I think that our leaders in Congress should take the advice of many a minister and, while appreciating the emotion of many in our country, stand true to the belief in universal health care that has gotten us so close to passing historic legislation.

In poll after poll, voters, by a 2-1 margin, put a higher priority on making coverage more affordable to families ahead of making sure health reform doesn't cost the country too much. At the same time, the idea of making major changes to our health care system has sparked fear in many, including, I might add, many who also clearly say that they want more affordable health care. This fear has been stirring for months, but surfaced most publicly last week in the special election in Massachusetts.

Leaders in Congress and the Administration now feel caught in the middle. What our country most needs right now is not wavering. Like a good minister, we need our leaders to show appreciation for people's fears while continuing to stand firm to the belief in universal care that has guided them thus far.

They must keep in mind that one special election in a state with the highest percentage in the country of insured individuals has done nothing to change the desperate need of children and families in our community for affordable health care. We need them to act with full awareness of the devastating consequences of letting efforts at comprehensive health reform fall through.

Between 1994 and today, approximately 650,000 people died prematurely in the United States because of they lacked health coverage. Who knows how many millions more could face this same fate if reform fails.

Millions of families, including many with health insurance, have had their homes taken from them because they got sick and could not pay their health care bills. With the economy continuing to stagnate, and health care costs for families continuing to rise, who knows how many more people with insurance will fall victim to a similar fate.

Without reform, health costs will continue to grow much faster than wages. Without reform, many millions of hard-working people and their families will join the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured. And without reform, businesses, staggered by increasing employee health costs, will either drop coverage or will be unable to make needed investments. As a result, our nation's economy - and the ability to create good jobs - will suffer.

We have the best opportunity in our lifetime to create a framework for bringing everyone into our great health care table of plenty - we cannot let fear derail this moment. We must not abandon the millions of Americans who stand so close to getting access to affordable health coverage.

We must "be not afraid."

As Ron Pollack, Director of Families USA, pointed out in a recent letter to Congress, "The policy slurs and defamations by health reform opponents, which will undoubtedly continue, cannot be effectively answered unless and until reform is enacted into law. It is only then that Americans around the country will see its benefits."

In other words, until people see the results of change, there will be fear. Congress and the Administration must now act with the faith that, when people's health care premiums and out-of-pocket expenses stabilize (and even go down) over the coming years due to health reform, that pushing through the fear in 2010 was the best thing they could have ever done.

Rev. Heyward D. Wiggins, III is pastor of Camden Bible Tabernacle Church in Camden, N.J., a clergy leader with Camden Churches Organized for People and member of the PICO National Network Steering Committee