Head US nun chastises Republican governors on Medicaid opt-out

The leader of a group that represents most American nuns is calling on Republican governors to accept the healthcare reform law's Medicaid expansion, which would provide insurance coverage to a larger share of the poor.

Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, joined a group of 102 other faith leaders in co-signing a statement Monday that urges support for a larger Medicaid program.

"Depriving struggling families of healthcare is wholly incompatible with the teachings of our faiths and the ideals of our nation," the statement reads.

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"We call on governors who are considering refusing or have already refused to accept the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid to put the well-being of their constituents ahead of their political ideology and accept the Medicaid funding."

Earlier this spring, the Vatican released a scathing critique of American nuns and their loyalty to Catholic doctrine, promising to overhaul the group. Farrell has led sisters' response to the crackdown, making headlines in the process for her defense of a Catholic worldview at odds with the church's hierarchy on issues like birth control, homosexuality and women in the priesthood.

The Medicaid statement's other co-signers range from heads of Catholic charities to Jewish and LGBT activists to leaders with various Christian denominations to professors of religious ethics.

The Supreme Court made expanding Medicaid optional for states in its June decision to uphold most of the Affordable Care Act. Since then, many GOP governors have said they will refuse to increase their Medicaid rolls because they fear the future financial commitment to the program will be too great.

Past estimates have found that, as designed, the healthcare law’s Medicaid expansion would have provided healthcare access to an additional 17 million low-income Americans. But at least 15 governors have indicated they will not participate, according to a review by The Hill in July.

The decision is politically sensitive for GOP governors who object to the healthcare law. Many have expressed fears that while the federal government would pay for most of the expansion through 2016, committing to care for more Medicaid beneficiaries would sink state budgets.

On a call with reporters Monday, faith leaders who signed the pro-expansion statement played down these fears, and said that expanding healthcare coverage will save lives.

"Expanding access to affordable healthcare is a shared responsibility that is grounded in our common humanity," said Elder Marco A. Grimaldo, president of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

"We have an enduring responsibility to care for one another. The Medicaid expansion is the right thing for Virginia."

Another social-justice leader, Sister Simone Campbell, linked her opposition to abortion to her support for the Medicaid expansion.

"It's a pro-life stance to make sure all of these folks are covered," she said. "It's what our faith is about. It's what our nation is about."

Farrell was not involved with the call.