For Release :
Bringing Reason and Morality to the Health Care Debate
Ever since Harry Truman introduced comprehensive health care for all Americans almost 65 years ago, we have struggled to attain this ideal. While there have been successes, today’s avalanche of ideological combat, misinformation, partisan positioning, public anger and confusion shows we have far to go to realize this dream.
For decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have advocated consistently for comprehensive affordable health care for all, including the weakest and most vulnerable.
We bring to the debate a unique perspective. Our teaching insists health care is a right not dependent on where your parents work, where you live or where you were born. Our tradition insists the moral measure of health care reform is how it touches the weak and vulnerable, babies in their mother’s womb, the very sick and old at the end of life, those without access and power.
The Catholic community provides health care to millions in our hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. We provide health care coverage for thousands of employees in our parishes, schools, charities and institutions. Our hospitals serve one out of every six patients nationally. We pick up the pieces of a failing health care system in our emergency rooms, shelters, schools and parishes. In many places, though, our resources and our ability to help are being overwhelmed.
People without health coverage are not abstractions for us; we see them every day, see how their lives and dignity are threatened. As this debate on health care reform continues, we offer the following four imperatives for fair and just health care reform:
• a truly universal health policy respecting the dignity of human life;
• access for all, especially the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants;
• pursuing the common good and preserving freedom of conscience and variety of options;
• restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers with a view to the economic health of our country, both now and in the future.
Two criteria need special attention as Congress moves forward: Respect for the Dignity of Life and Access for All.
Respect for the dignity of life
No health care reform plan should compel anyone to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion. Any such action would be morally wrong and politically unwise. We are convinced that any health care legislation that compels Americans to pay for or participate in abortion will not find sufficient votes to pass.
Congress traditionally has respected the right of health care providers to decline involvement in abortion or abortion referrals, without exception, and has respected moral and religious objections in other contexts as well.
The bishops are bringing a simple message to Congress: health care reform must continue to honor the American tradition of freedom of conscience. Any health care reform legislation should reflect longstanding and widely supported current policies on abortion funding, mandates and conscience protections; they represent sound morality, wise policy and political reality. Making the proposed health care reform legislation “abortion- neutral” in this sense will be essential if the “reform” has a chance to be widely accepted.
Access for all
All people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality and affordable health care. Many lower-income families simply lack resources to meet their health care expenses. For these families, significant premiums and cost-sharing charges are barriers to obtaining coverage or seeing a doctor. Therefore, Medicaid cost-sharing protections should be maintained and new coverage options should protect the lowest income enrollees from burdensome cost sharing. Congress must limit premiums or exempt families with limited means from monthly premiums, and limit co-payments and other costs that could discourage needed care. In order to move toward universal coverage, we urge Congress to maintain at least the proposed minimum national eligibility levels for Medicaid and CHIP to ensure comprehensive coverage and to provide states with the resources to expand coverage.
Society has a responsibility to ensure that no one is left without the ability to see a doctor when he or she is sick or to obtain emergency care when his or her health is at risk. Therefore, Congress must ensure sufficient funding for safety-net clinics, hospitals and other providers serving those who will fall through the cracks of a reformed system.
Living in a state with increased numbers of immigrants, the Catholic bishops of New Jersey are renewing our appeal to provide equity for legal immigrants in access to health care. Immigrants pay the same taxes as citizens; their health needs cannot be ignored. Leaving them outside a reformed system is both unfair and unwise.
Health care is not just another issue for the Church or for a healthy society. It is a fundamental issue of human life and dignity. It is a critical component of the Catholic Church’s ministry. Genuine health care reform that protects the life and dignity of all is a moral imperative and a vital national obligation.