greater boston interfaith organization

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Farewell, Hurmon Hamilton: Reflections On A Health Reformer

The Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, a force behind health reform, is heading to California

By Martha Bebinger

Repeat after me, he demands: “Finish the Job!”

The Reverend Hurmon Hamilton bounces behind a podium, drilling his message into another crowd of entranced health care advocates. They know the routine. They shout back, mostly in unison: “Finish the job.”  Their words echo through the marble State House hall.

Reverend Hurmon Hamilton after his last State House health care rally


Reverend Hamilton tells the crowd it’s the last time he’ll rattle these walls. He’s leaving for a large, diverse church in Mountain View, California (home of Google and an average high in February of 63 degrees).  His message, “finish the job” is a set of marching orders for the messengers he trained in 15 years with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO).

GBIO, working with a coalition that included Health Care for All, used the power of the crowd to help shape the state’s coverage law. Now, as Hamilton leaves, his team in blue GBIO t-shirts hopes to shape legislation that will bring down health care costs and premiums.  That’s the job Hamilton asks the crowd to finish. The results will test the legacy of his leadership.

God, And Health Care Costs

As hospitals, doctors, insurers and lawmakers grapple over what steps are necessary to rein in health care costs, another sector is stepping into the fray: organized religion.

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports that the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, a group that played a key role in creating and promoting the state’s health reform law back in 2006, is now organizing a campaign on controlling health costs. Two dozen representatives of the organization are now in training to lead the campaign. Their goal is to educate and engage a wide spectrum of consumers in various religious communities, and to convince them that this is a policy discussion worth joining.

These representatives of various churches, synagogues and mosques have given up 10 evenings since December to hear from the Massachusetts Medical Society, Partners HealthCare, Blue Cross Blue Shield and other leading health care organizations. These “students” hold 3’’ binders with Power Point presentations, their notes and homework.

Alliea Groupp, who co-chairs GBIO’s health care cost campaign, sets the agenda for Monday night’s meeting. “Where we are tonight is to take all those conversations and come in and try to figure out where we are in this, where we stand,” Groupp said.

She calls on Kidder, who is skeptical about the chances of both reducing costs and increasing quality.

“Do we all really think that that’s possible?” Kidder asked. “Have we repealed the law of ‘you get what you pay for.’”

They Helped Get State Health Reform Passed; Now Interfaith Group Takes On Care Costs

GBIO members play a game to help clarify their thinking about health care costs

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports:

Get ready for the next hot religious campaign in Boston: rising health care costs. Yes, the group that chanted, prayed and sang their way to passage of the state’s health coverage law says it’s time to rein in health care spending.

Greater Boston Interfaith Organization launched a campaign yesterday. WBURs’ Martha Bebinger listened in and joined us Monday morning with a review of the first team meeting.

Bob Oakes: How important is it that this group is getting involved in the debate about rising health care costs?

Martha Bebinger: GBIO was very active in lobbying for the state’s health coverage law. My eardrums are still feeling the effects of the singing, chanting and praying that bounced off those marble State House walls, and they, along with Health Care for All and a few other health care advocacy groups, have decided to make sure consumers have a say in the debate about health care spending.

Why does the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization see this as a religious issue?

They see it as a social justice issue. Rising health care costs are eating into personal incomes of their members. Employers say they can’t hire more people or give adequate raises because so much of their profits, if they have any, are going towards higher health care premiums. And municipal and state services are being cut because spending on health care is increasing at three to four or more times the rate of inflation.

Even if there are compelling reasons, there’s a huge difference between supporting coverage for the uninsured and rallying members to hold down health care spending. What are they going to chant? What will the buttons and bumper stickers say?

Right, hard to imagine “Just say no to Fee for Service” or “Where did you get your MRI?” Health Care for All is pushing the message, “Better Quality Care Costs Less.” Even that’s a hard message to absorb because it runs counter to the way many of us think about health care.

But GBIO and Health Care for All have done this before. The first round of team leaders that gathered Sunday was fairly split about how hard it will be to translate the grassroots organizing they’ve done on other issues to slowing the growth of health care costs. Continue reading