Church Stakes Are High in Health Care Reform

By Filteau, Jerry | National Catholic Reporter, August 21, 2009 | Go to article overview

Church Stakes Are High in Health Care Reform


Filteau, Jerry, National Catholic Reporter


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WASHINGTON * For decades the U.S. Catholic church has pressed for major reform of the nation's health care system. Now that such reform appears near reality, the church has high stakes in what shape it takes.

Universal health coverage, protection of the sacredness of all human life and conscience protection for health care workers and institutions are among the church's top concerns.

In a recent letter to Congress, Bishop William E Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Domestic Policy Committee, said, "The bishops, conference believes health care reform should be truly universal and genuinely affordable.... 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."

"The current system is not working. In a nation as strong as ours, far too many people have no access" to adequate health care, said Kathy Saile, director of the bishops' Office of Domestic Social Development. "If we do nothing, it will get worse."

"The hopeful sign is that nearly all the stakeholders are at the table," she added, contrasting the current effort with-the Clinton administration's failed attempt at health care reform in the early '90s, when health insurers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and others sharply resisted and ultimately subverted any real reform.

For the church, one key goal in any reform is assuring universal, affordable access to health care.

With some 46 million Americans lacking health insurance, according to U.S. figures in 2007--undoubtedly much higher now with the recession of the past year--Catholic social teaching that health care is a basic human right is at stake.

Saile said current legislative proposals that would exclude federal health care subsidies for all illegal immigrants and all legal immigrants who entered the United States less than five years ago run contrary to Catholic social teaching.

The church's core teaching on the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death is also at stake, with federal abortion funding as the main hot-button issue.

In late July, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia wrote a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the bill H.R. 3200, "America's Affordable Health Choices Act," one of the key versions of health reform legislation currently under consideration by Congress.

Rigali, who is chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged the legislation be amended to assure that it would not become "a vehicle for promoting an 'abortion rights' agenda."

"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is working to ensure that needed health reform is not undermined by abandoning long-standing and widely supported policies against abortion funding and mandates and in favor of conscience protection," he wrote.

H.R. 3200 was amended July 31 to prohibit any public funding for abortions, "for which the expenditure of federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is not permitted."

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the bishops' Secretariat of ProLife Activities, said that language currently refers to the Hyde amendment--in force since the mid-1970s and named after the late Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.--which prohibits federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother.

"Of course, next year [the Department of Health and Human Services] could kick out the Hyde amendment," Doerflinger said.

The July 31 amendment to H.R. 3200, introduced by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., would prohibit public funding of abortion under the health reform law for any abortions denied federal funding under the Department of Health and Human Services "based on the law as in effect as of the date that is six months before the beginning of the plan year involved. …

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