In a previous post I spoke about actions of General Convention regarding health care, and especially about Resolution A079, passed in General Convention in 2000. The first consequence, described in the previous post, was the Formative Symposium on Health Care. The second consequence was the conference, Waging Reconciliation: an Episcopal Response to Healthcare Barriers in April, 2003.You can read articles about the conference here.
Let me say more about the conference from a participant’s point of view. The first thing to note is that this conference was planned through the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations. I’m not sure how many people in the Church know we even have an Office of Government Relations. I’m not sure how many of those who do know actually know what it does. In fact it is a lobbying office. Staff of the office work to make those in the federal government aware of stands taken by the Episcopal Church on various topics of interest. This may include resolutions of General Convention, and statements of the Executive Council, the House of Bishops, or the Presiding Bishop. In addition, they operate the Episcopal Public Policy Network. Through the Network interested Episcopalians are alerted to events taking place in Washington, how those events impact social and political issues, and how members of the Network may contact members of Congress and others in Government to express their opinions.
On the first day of the conference we heard from a number of interesting and important people, and had the opportunity to meet with Congressional staffers who are Episcopalians. However, as interesting as that was, the real action, I think, was on the second day. On that day we began with a review of how to be lobbyists: how to address an issue, how make the best use of the time of the member of Congress or of the staffer we met, and how to articulate the commitment of the Episcopal Church to elimination of barriers to health care. Then we went out individually and in teams, and hit the Hill. In appointments arranged by the Office of Government Relations we met with our members of Congress, or with members of their staffs, to present the concerns of the Church. Most of us actually met with staffers; a few were able to actually meet their Representative or Senator. Almost all felt we were well received.
Now, what did this accomplish? I know we haven’t yet accomplished universal health care. The President, raised as an Episcopalian and still attending an Episcopal Church (I imagine because it’s the church most convenient to the White House and the Secret Service), doesn’t seem responsive to the positions of the Church. However, I have maintained a relationship with two staff members for one of my senators. Now, the senator is more conservative than I am (but, then, most people are), as are the staffers; but the staffers do respond to my emails with more than a boiler plate response.
Some will know that most medical residency programs, and most clinical education programs for other healthcare professionals, are paid for in part by Medicare reimbursement. Two summers ago, when the Center for Medicare Services (CMS) was considering cutting reimbursement for education for ancillary services in health care, including CPE, I contacted one staffer, and through her was able to contact a staffer of my other senator. Both sent letters to CMS supporting reimbursement for CPE and other ancillary education programs. The decision was made not to eliminate the reimbursements, although some, including CPE, were clarified and somewhat narrowed. I can’t say that the letters from the senators were the critical pieces in the CMS decision; but I’m sure they didn’t hurt. And I continue to contact the senator’s office when I have an opinion to share.
Now, events like Waging Reconciliation and the Formative Symposium get reported in Episcopal Life and elsewhere; but I’m not sure how many people notice. At the same time, they are, as I said, concrete results of a resolution in General Convention. Once again, they are evidence that indeed the Episcopal Church does stand for something, and does try to make that stance visible in the world.