Doug Hardy photo
Rev. Shelley D.B. Copeland (Doug Hardy photo)

An interfaith group of religious leaders and health care advocates from around the state converged on the state Capitol Wednesday to show their support for the SustiNet bill, which could be taken up by the House as early as next week.

Rev. Shelley D.B. Copeland said these are unusual times we are living in. She talked about the recent passing of Angel Arce Torres, the Hartford man who was paralyzed after a hit-and-run on Park Street. A surveillance camera caught the incident on video and showed how Arce, who died Monday, was ignored by pedestrians and motorists as he lay in the middle of the street.

Doug Hardy photo
Rally on the Capitol steps (Doug Hardy photo)

Copeland said people failed to come to his side and show compassion. She said without health care many people are lying in the road without compassion. “We must all do our best to advocate for SustiNet, right now,” she said.

The House is expected to take up with SustiNet proposal next week and there’s speculation that it may be combined with a bill which creates a large self-insured pool of municipal, nonprofit, and small business employees.

The SustiNet proposal also creates a massive health insurance pool by combining the pool of state employees and retirees with people now covered under state assistance programs.

Small businesses, nonprofits and municipalities would be invited to join the state pool, as would the uninsured residents and people with inadequate coverage. Eventually it would be open to any employer in Connecticut. By 2014, the Universal Health Care Foundation estimated 98 percent of Connecticut’s population would have insurance under its proposal, with a sliding scale on premiums.

Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, said SustiNet is similar to plans being discussed at the federal level. He said the bill ties the state directly to the federal reform being talked about this summer in Washington DC.

Figueroa said costs in the early years would be “minimal,” with state spending increasing $950 million by 2014 to boost provider rates and add the uninsured. Foundation analysts say this would be offset by an estimated $800 million in federal funding increases.

The bottom line is an estimated $1.75 billion in savings for households and businesses in 2014 with the state collecting an additional $50 million in income tax due to rising Connecticut incomes.

Sporting red t-shirts proponents of the bill stood patiently outside the House and Senate chambers all day Wednesday waiting to talk to their legislators.

Prayer Vigil

Early in the day religious leaders from a variety of faith traditions held a prayer vigil near the statute of Nathan Hale.

Chaplain Bilal Ansari of the Muhammad Islamic Center in Hartford and the Rabbi Stephen Fuchs of the Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, both seen in the video above prayed that lawmakers and Gov. M. Jodi Rell would find it in their hearts to pass the bill.

A few months ago, the same interfaith coalition requested a meeting with Rell to discuss health care and the SustiNet proposal. They said Rell has declined to respond to three requests for a meeting, so today they passed around a letter requesting a fourth.

In his prayer today Rabbi Fuchs said he hopes God will “penetrate the seemingly hardened heart of Gov. M. Jodi Rell…that she may hear the cry of those who don’t have access to health care.”

Rev. Josh Pawelek of the Unitarian Universalist Society East in Manchester said God does not favor Democrats or Republicans. “God’s favor is for all people,” he said.

Capitol Police Sgt. Robert Bates approached the organizers of the prayer vigil because he had received some complaints about how loud they had been praying and worried it was a rally, instead of a prayer vigil. The sergeant allowed the vigil to carry on uninterrupted after organizers explained that their presence had been approved by House and Senate leadership.