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Religious leaders chalk up the bodies for Medicaid expansion

Local religious leaders staged a demonstration outside the Governor’s mansion on Wednesday. They gathered to convince Governor Gary Herbert to endorse Medicaid expansion in Utah. Next year, states have the option to expand Medicaid coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act. For his part, the governor has said he doesn’t plan to make a decision until next year.

The Rev. Jerrod Lowry of the Community of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sandy led the prayer for a group of other reverends, pastors, chaplains, a Buddhist monk, and a host of others from various religious backgrounds, as they gathered outside the governor’s mansion.

The prayer commenced a multi-faith protest by religious leaders from around Utah. They’re in favor of Medicaid expansion in Utah, something Governor Gary Herbert, an Affordable Care Act critic, hasn’t made up his mind on yet.

To demonstrate the potential human cost of declining Medicaid expansion funding from the federal government, the church leaders got down on the sidewalk and traced their outlines in chalk. They made 18 figures, the number of people that could die next year without Medicaid expansion.

Crossroads, the nonprofit organization that organized the protest, cites a study from the New England Journal of Medicine to arrive at the 18-person death toll.

Crossroads organizer Molly Williams said she hopes the governor will warm up to Medicaid expansion.

"I think that if enough people come together and show him this is a needed thing, that he'll definitely reconsider. Because whether or not you agree with this particular bill, something needs to be done about health care expansion. These people need health care in some way," Williams said.

Pastor Olga Hard of Mountain Vista United Methodist Church in West Jordan came to voice her support because she said it’s an issue she has a difficult time ignoring.

"I have never done anything like this before. So this is a big step in my faith journey, it's just been an issue that has been on the doorstep, in the office of the church, on a weekly basis," Hard said.

Pastor Curtis Price is from the First Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, and said it is crucial to have the governor accept Medicaid expansion.

"If we're not on board by the end of this year, we'll have to wait another year and thousands of families will not have access to Medicaid that they otherwise could have had," Price said.

Price has strongly advocated for Medicaid expansion to politic leaders, but he said he's unsure where the governor stands.

"I hope he is considering less about the political ramifications of signing onto this option and more about the families that are going to be affected, his family, families in the state of Utah. It's literally going to be a Godsend to so many families. I can't imagine what's holding him back," Price said.

It’s admittedly a bit unusual seeing a group of reverends and pastors sprawled out on the sidewalk traced by chalk. Whether such an image will sway the governor is yet to be seen.