Religion and Health Care

Article excerpt

Although the Clinton administration seems to have diverted its health care reform package to a holding pattern, religious organizations aren't waiting to voice their opinions about restructuring the health care system. The nation's Roman Catholic bishops said recently that, excluding abortion and euthanasia, health care should be seen as a basic human right. And in a letter to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is heading the Clinton administration's efforts to reform heath care, Orthodox Jews have raised questions about prenatal and pediatric care and so-called health "rationing."

David Zwiebel, general counsel to Agudath Israel of America, noted in the letter to Clinton that 13 percent of all U.S. children under 18 years of age and 9 percent of all pregnant women are without health coverage. "As a community that tends to have large families, Orthodox Jews have an especially substantial stake in promoting policies that assure universal access to adequate prenatal and pediatric care," said Zwiebel.

On the issue of health care rationing, Zwiebel expressed concern that expanding health care "horizontally" to cover more of the estimated 35 million Americans without health insurance might come at the cost of reducing coverage vertically--that is, covering fewer medical procedures. "This painful trade-off would raise extremely serious concerns," he said, and he voiced fears that such a move would shift the say in medical treatment to "faceless bureaucrats."

At its recent meeting in New Orleans, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a resolution describing health care as not simply a "commodity" but a "basic human right." However, the bishops made it clear that, in their view, access to adequate health care should not include use of federal tax dollars to finance abortion and euthanasia: "We will fight very emphatically to make sure abortion is not part of that package."

The bishops maintained that American health care is flawed because it "serves too few and costs too much." It also, they noted, leaves about 35 million Americans--including one out of three Hispanics and one of five black Americans--without insurance. A financial investment undergirds, in part, the bishops' concerns. The resolution pointed out that Catholic health care facilities constitute the largest network of nonprofit hospitals and nursing homes in the U.S., serving 20 million annually. The Catholic Church shoulders its share of the health care system in 600 hospitals and 1,500 long-term and specialized health care settings. "We see the consequences of failed and confused policy: families without insurance, sick without options, children without care," the bishops said.

In an earlier speech to the Catholic Health Association, Hillary Rodham Clinton herself affirmed that universal access to health care, a key component of most religious groups' stand on the reform, is also a primary goal of the Clinton administration's proposal. "The key fundamental goal of health care reform is universal access as soon as possible," Clinton said during the CHA's 78th annual meeting, also held in New Orleans. She made her remarks from the White House via a satellite hook-up.

In a speech warm with praise for the CHA and other nonprofit health care deliverers, Clinton also said the Catholic proposal for reform is "right in line with what we're thinking. …