Summary of Episcopal Church Policy and Advocacy on Healthcare in the United States

September 28, 2020
By: 
Blair Hood, Spring/Summer Intern 2020, Office of Government Relations

A Comprehensive and Universal Healthcare Program

The Church supports comprehensive health care and recognizes the need for universal and equitable access for all. General Convention urges Episcopalians to advocate for adequate health care, along with nutrition and housing, as human rights that should be provided to all those residing in our nation, including veterans. This advocacy on a number of healthcare policy asks is viewed as a Church ministry and as a way to promote healthy American communities.

Recent Church policies urging the development of healthcare programs builds upon a history going back decades, which includes advocacy and education on HIV/AIDS. In 2000, General Convention asked Episcopalians to advocate for a healthcare system that guarantees decent and appropriate primary healthcare. More recently, the Church has urged Episcopalians to contact federal, state, and local elected officials to create a comprehensive definition of basic healthcare, establish a system to provide this basic care for all, and create an independent oversight mechanism to audit the delivery of that basic healthcare.

In 2009, the Church specifically urged the passage of a “single payer” universal healthcare program via federal legislation and supported work to realize the goal of universal health care coverage. General Convention further directed the Office of Government Relations to research the healthcare policy options and to pursue short-term incremental and innovative approaches to universal health care as the country works toward the goal of a “single payer” program.

General Convention also supports policy measures particularly for protecting low-income individuals and families. The Church has affirmed its support for the full and adequate funding of social safety net programs including Medicaid and Medicare which help to address the health care needs of vulnerable populations and has called on the U.S. government to preserve and protect these essential programs. Additionally, The Episcopal Church opposes proposals that limit benefit funding to block grants, cut off new enrollment of income-eligible people irrespective of their needs, and stipulate that people who lose eligibility cannot re-enroll. Specifically, Episcopalians and dioceses in the states that did not accept the Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansion are urged to advocate to their state officials to accept this benefit and federal funding for their constituents.

General Convention further urges Episcopalians to advocate for addressing the specific health care needs of women and girls. This includes urging adequate government funding and support for research and development, and prevention and treatment of matters that affect the health and quality of the lives of women including domestic violence, contraceptives, HIV/AIDS, cancer, maternity care, and other chronic illnesses prevalent among women. More on equitable access to women’s healthcare is further articulated in our summary of General Convention policies on Abortion and Women’s Reproductive Health.

In 2018, General Convention reaffirmed its prior commitment to ensure quality pre-natal care is available for all to address concerns of increased rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, especially among low-income women and women of color. General Convention has voiced its support for diocesan advocacy efforts for women to have the right to safe and available natal healthcare to enable healthy pregnancies and overall maternal well-being. The Office of Government Relations is asked to ensure safe and respectful maternal health care be recognized as human right throughout the U.S. and to urge state governments adopt a human-rights based approach to ensuring safe pregnancy and childbirth.  

Healthcare Advocacy

EPPN alerts on COVID-19 legislation including healthcare:

EPPN: Support the CARE Act to respond to the opioid crisis (October 2019)

EPPN: Tell Congress to protect children’s health care (October 2017)

EPPN: Tell your senators to protect health care (September 2017)

EPPN: Congress Votes on Health Care Tomorrow, Make Your Voice Heard (March 2017)

EPPN: Ensuring Health Care for all (January 2017)

Letter to Senate Supporting the Church Health Plan Act of 2013 (September 2013)

Interfaith Push to Fix Affordable Care Act Church-Specific Glitch (September 2013)

Episcopal Health Group Recognized for Affordable Care Act Advocacy (September 2013)

Episcopal Public Policy Network Urges Opposition to Health-care Reform Repeal (January 2011)

Vote for Health Care Now - Final Push (March 2010)

EPPN urges action on health-care reform (November 2009)

Tell Congress -- Don't Leave Town without Passing Health Care Reform! (July 2009)

Racial Disparities in Healthcare

As with other issues, the Office of Government Relations strives to consider the racial justice and racial healing aspects of a given policy. The Church acknowledges racial disparity in quality of health care exists throughout the U.S. Notably, the Church recognizes discrepancies in levels of care and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS, the lack of access to accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of marginalized racial communities in substance use disorders, and the tragic disparity in maternal health care that has resulted from discrimination in pre- and post-natal maternal health care for impoverished women and women of color. Most recently, the racial disparities in quality of health care can be seen in the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had among communities of color across the United States, especially among Indigenous communities, further necessitating action to solve this crisis. The Episcopal Church has recognized the challenges facing Indigenous communities even prior to COVID-19, as these communities experience increasing disparities in health, healthcare, and quality of life.   

Episcopal Church on Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Addiction and Treatment

The Church, recognizing the breadth and impact addiction has calls upon dioceses to provide educational programs to congregations on recent advances in addition treatment and to address problems related to dependency within the Church. The Church recognizes its previous long-standing tolerance for the use of alcohol and has since committed to creating a new normal in its relationship with alcohol. In doing so, the Church hopes to be a place in which difficult conversations on alcohol and addiction are not simply focused on treatment, but also include renewal, justice, wholeness, and healing. The Church has also committed to combatting alcoholism outside of church settings, by providing funds for alcoholism programs.

In 2018, Convention called upon dioceses to respond to the ongoing epidemic of opioid addiction by partnering with first responders and others in the medical and faith community to hold trainings on administering first aid when overdoses occur and providing pastoral care for those affected. The Church urges the federal government to address this epidemic as a public health crisis, affirming opioid use disorder as a disease, which will require adequate resources so those affected are able to be effectively treated.

Episcopal Views on Mental Health

For decades, The Episcopal Church has been dedicated to supporting those in need of mental health care. One of the Church’s first actions to support those with mental illness was through ministry to those experiencing homelessness who are also struggle with mental illnesses. This support has evolved as the Church increases its understanding of mental illness via educational material and the adoption of best practices for the inclusion, support, and spiritual care for those with mental illness. In 2018, the Church created a task force to further its commitment to persons with mental illnesses and their families.

To address mental health and illness, The Episcopal Church encourages its members to become more knowledgeable on the subject in order to reduce stigma and stereotypes. A part of that work includes becoming an advocate for public policy and adequate public funding for comprehensive community-based services, hospital care, and research of the causes and treatments of mental illnesses.