LDS Church Absent from Medicaid Expansion Effort

Among a handful of other organizations, the Coalition of Religious Communities emerged as a leader at a rally Wednesday at the state capitol for Medicaid expansion.

The group presented a life-size letter at Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s office, signed by more than 100 religious leaders, urging the governor to expand Medicaid program in Utah. The coalition included Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders.

Missing was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When asked how confident she is that the coalition can succeed in influencing Gov. Herbert’s decision on Medicaid expansion without the LDS Church’s voice, CORC Director Linda Hilton said “we are very confident.”

“We’ve made a lot of strides on the Hill over the years on many social justice issues,” she said. “It’s just little bites out of the elephant—and at this point, the elephant’s almost gone.”

Hilton said the coalition had “long discussions and really reached out” to church officials before the church declined to sign onto the letter. More details on the church’s decision, Hilton said, would need to be garnered from the church itself.

LDS Public Affairs Spokeswoman Ruth Todd, however, didn’t provide any details as to why the church did not participate.

“I don’t know anything about it” was Todd’s reply when she was first contacted for a statement.  

“We’ve been busy with the typhoon,” she said when told about the rally, referencing Typhoon Haiyan, which affected seven of the church’s 21 missions in the Philippines.

The letter was published Nov. 17 in a full-page ad in The Salt Lake Tribune and LDS Church-owned Deseret News. It argued that “expanding Medicaid in Utah could ultimately assist 123,586 adults who would otherwise be uninsured. Providing this assistance would ensure that thousands of Utahns have access to preventative care and are able to receive medical attention before their situation becomes catastrophic.” It was signed by Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy and lay leaders and paid for by the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.

Holding a sign with a biblical injunction of helping the “least,” Nelda Bishop said she was motivated to attend the rally because of her Latter-day Saint beliefs. She said she did not understand why the church’s First Presidency has not publicly expressed support for some form of expansion.

“No matter how generous I may be personally, I don’t know the people under the viaduct who have heart trouble or whatever,” said Bishop, a co-president of the League of Women Voters. “There is no way private citizens are going to take care of the most needy because they don’t know who they are. I’m fine with my tax dollars going to a child with cancer. That’s why we came to Earth.”

Bishop said she didn’t understand why more Latter-day Saints were not at the rally.

“We owe people health care,” she said. “It’s exactly what we should do. Take care of the neediest—we are told that all through the scriptures.”

Rev. Canon Mary June Nestler, executive officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah led the march into Gov. Herbert’s office.

Shortly after Nestler presented the letter to constituent service employees, dozens started singing with chants of “Amen!”

“It’s a deep part of our faith to support those things that will help those who are oppressed,” Nestler said. “We believe that Jesus would want us to do that, so we are doing it. I hope the rally will soften the heart of our governor toward Medicaid expansion, because so many people are waiting for that good news. I hope that (Gov. Herbert) will hear our voices and respond to the leaders of so many different religious communities in his state.”

Twenty-one governors, all Republican, have turned down Medicaid expansion. Twenty-six states and Washington, D.C., including eight GOP governors, are expanding the health program. Tennessee and Pennsylvania join Utah as undecided.