Burwell Recruits Liberal ‘Faith Leaders’ to Promote Obamacare

By Penny Starr | December 18, 2014 | 1:59 PM EST

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell spoke to reporters about increasing the number of people enrolled in Obamacare on Dec. 12, 2014 at the Methodist Church Building in Washington, D.C. She is flanked by (l-r) <span>Sister Simone Campbell,<span> </span></span><span>executive director of NETWORK, National Catholic Social Justice Lobby;</span><span><span> </span></span><span>and Amy Cotton, senior policy manager at the National Council of Jewish Women.</span> (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell met with “faith organizations from across the country” last week to ask them to help people enroll in federal health care insurance plans created through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“We know that the most effective voices on helping folks learn about the Affordable Care Act are voices in their community and voices that they trust,” Burwell said to reporters following the “closed press” meeting on Friday.

“Faith leaders have a unique perspective. When someone in their congregation feels financial stress they know it," she said.

“When someone has a medical issue, they know it as well, and because faith leaders play such an important role in their communities and because they are the leaders that people trust in almost all setting, we view them as some of our most effective and important partners," Burwell said.

While addressing reporters, Burwell was flanked by two people who attended the meeting: Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, National Catholic Social Justice Lobby and Amy Cotton, senior policy manager at the National Council of Jewish Women.

Campbell supported liberal causes, including the reelection of President Barack Obama. In September, Campbell and other nun activists did their third tour to fight what they say is “dark money” from Charles and David Koch to GOP political campaigns.

According to its website, Cotton’s organization takes “a progressive stance on such issues as child welfare, women’s rights, and reproductive freedom.”

But when CNSNews.com asked HHS later to identify the names of the faith leaders and organizations that attended the meeting, the agency did not directly answer the question.

In addition, CNSNews.com asked HHS if any of those in attendance opposed the Obamacare mandate that requires payment and provision of contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs or whether Burwell or other HHS officials planned to meet with them.

An HHS official sent the following response via e-mail:

“Secretary Burwell met with faith leaders from across the country,” the statement said. “The group consisted of about 25 participants who spoke about families, their budgets, and the choices they have for obtaining quality, health coverage at a price they can afford.

“As Secretary Burwell said during the press conference: ‘Because faith leaders play such an important role in their communities – and because they are leaders that people trust – we view them as some of our most important, and effective partners,’" it said.

“HHS is in constant communication with faith groups and faith leaders who have a variety of beliefs, including those who are opposed to the provision,” the statement said.

The contraceptive mandate, which forces Catholics and others Christians to act against their faith by purchasing or providing those drugs, has resulted in more than 90 lawsuits.

When CNSNews.com asked at Friday’s event about their goal for the number of people signed up for Obamacare after this latest enrollment period – the deadline was Dec. 15 for Jan. 1 coverage with the final deadline of Feb. 15 providing coverage at a later date – Burwell said they hope to have 9.1 million people enrolled next year.

An HHS analysis released on Nov. 10 projected between 9 million and 9.9 million individuals enrolled in health insurance plans through the Obamacare exchange by the end of 2015. That's up to 4 million fewer people than estimated by the Congressional Budget Office in April.

Burwell noted in her remarks to the press that three quarters of the people shopping and buying on the federal marketplace right now are those who were already enrolled. She said that people who do not re-enroll in a different plan on their own will be automatically re- enrolled in their existing plan.

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