Officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services met with about 60 faith leaders in a North Philadelphia church Thursday.
Their goal was to raise awareness about new benefits available to low-income and elderly people this year under the federal health law.
Melissa Herd, a spokeswoman for the Medicare and Medicaid office based in Philadelphia, said churches, synagogues and mosques are often the first places people turn when they need help. Making sure clergy know what insurance programs and other health benefits are available is a good way to make sure the community knows.
“When people get into trouble or when they have a hard time,” Herd said, “they look to their leaders to be a resource to them. So we wanted to get this information into the hands of the leaders because we know they’re a trusted source.”
Pastor Clement Lupton of Beloved St. John Evangelistic Church in North Philadelphia said it is important for him to keep up to date on the resources available to his congregation. Lupton said more and more people have been coming to him for help in the past two years.
“It isn’t just ‘can you help with the rent?’ It’s ‘we don’t have health care, we don’t have a job, we don’t have food,’ ” Lupton said. “Those needs have escalated, which makes meetings like today, in my estimation, very important.”
Speakers at the event emphasized new prescription drug benefits available to close the “doughnut hole” and preventive services that are now offered for free under Medicare. Cancer screenings, diabetes tests and flu shots now are all free to Medicare patients.
They also took the opportunity to remind religious leaders that free or subsidized health insurance for kids is available through Pennsylvania’s CHIP program.
The focus group was one of a handful planned in cities across the country.