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RELIGION / JOHN DART : Groups Debate Clinton Health Plan : Politics: Christian Coalition in Studio City calls proposal anti-family. Clergy Network luncheon in Reseda says 'everybody should be covered.'

March 26, 1994|JOHN DART

Religious groups are lining up on both sides of the fight over President Clinton's health plan, with supporters and opponents both holding events in the San Fernando Valley recently.

How much difference they'll make is as imponderable as what legislation might land eventually on President Clinton's desk. But it won't be for lack of trying.

Liberal bodies are calling for support of the Administration proposals and conservatives oppose any move to provide abortions or other facets they view as anti-family, with the Catholics straddling both camps.

The Christian Coalition, the conservative political action movement founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, brought Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas and other speakers to the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City last Saturday to lambast Clinton's health care plans as socialized medicine and anti-family.

The meeting, which organizers said 500 people attended, was one of five held nationwide as part of the Christian Coalition's $1.4-million publicity campaign, which includes mailing postcards to 60,000 churches in hopes of getting them to write to members of Congress.

Across the ideological aisle, Scott Anderson, associate director of the Sacramento-based California Council of Churches, told nearly 70 people attending the Clergy Network luncheon March 16 in Reseda that a broad coalition of Protestant, Episcopal, Unitarian and Jewish groups support the principle that "everybody should be covered" by any federal health care plan.

"Anderson plans to come back and help congregations to run workshops to acquaint members with the health care issues," said Barry Smedberg, executive director of the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, which co-sponsored the recent luncheon. The three-hour training session in the Valley will be held April 30, but no location has been selected, Smedberg said.

The 55-million-member Catholic Church, the nation's largest nonprofit provider of health care through a large network of hospitals, stands in some ways between the two largely Protestant poles--saying "yes" to universal coverage and "no" to abortion.

That was the essence of a letter earlier this month from Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who chairs the U.S. bishops' committee for pro-life activities, joined by Archbishop William H. Keeler, president of the Catholic bishops, and Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop John Riccard, chairman of the committee on domestic social policy.

However, a Catholic spokesman has since indicated that the church--if forced to choose between the two principles--would not support a broad-coverage bill that includes payments for abortion, according to Religious News Service.

The letter from Father Francis Maniscalco, who heads the bishops' media relations office, reflected the earlier stated desire for universal coverage but put more emphasis on the abortion issue.

"The insistence on making abortion an integral part of reform and coercing millions of Americans to pay for the destruction of human life would bring not only the church's opposition, but the defeat of the much-needed reform," Maniscalco wrote.

The National Assn. of Evangelicals, like Catholic leaders, urged Congress to "seek to make health care accessible to all" in a resolution adopted at its 52nd annual convention in Texas earlier this month. But the evangelicals also put even stronger emphasis on rejecting coverage for abortion.

The evangelicals' resolution also urged "health care provisions which will maximize the creativity of the private sector while minimizing governmental control."

Sen. Gramm and the politically active Christian Coalition took stances a bit further to the right at the meeting in Studio City.

"The debate is not over whether or not we need to reform health care," Gramm said. "The debate is about letting government take over and run the entire health care system--which is socialized medicine."

Businesswoman Sara DiVito Hardman of Encino, state director of the Christian Coalition of California, declared the Clinton proposals to have small businesses pay for nearly 80% of the health care premiums would result in companies either reducing wages or laying off workers to cover the cost.

"This socialized health care plan will create the largest government bureaucracy in the history of the United States, costing taxpayers $143 billion," Hardman said.

A House subcommittee Wednesday narrowly approved a bill that embraces many of Clinton's package of medical benefits. Ways and Means health subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark (D-Hayward) sought to scale back some of the costly features of the Clinton plan, including long-term care, but now the fight moves to the full Ways and Means Committee.

Long-term care, as well as mental health and substance-dependency treatment, are among the comprehensive medical coverages sought by the National Council of Churches and a close ally, the Washington-based Interreligious Health Care Access Campaign.

"The most important bottom line is that it covers everybody," said Scott Anderson, a former Presbyterian minister who is a part of the interreligious campaign.

"We must ask how each proposal impacts low-income people," Anderson said in an interview. "Under the Clinton plan, a welfare mother or a disabled person receiving federal assistance would have to pay $2 each time to see a doctor. A minimum-wage worker who cooks at Burger King would have to pay $10 to see a physician. That may be a barrier to a lot of people," Anderson said.

The ecumenical strategists that Anderson represents also advocate "cost control mechanisms to bring expenditures somewhat in line with the rate of inflation" and a choice of health care provider, such as Kaiser or Aetna, but not the choice of doctor, he said.

"There is going to have to be a swelling up of grass-roots support for reform to overcome all of the well-heeled institutional interests that want nothing to happen," Anderson said.

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