The Poor Seen as Winners in Health Care Reform
Filteau, Jerry, National Catholic Reporter
WASHINGTON * With the passage of national health care reform, "the poor won and working Americans won, and they so rarely win," said Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association. "It's wonderful."
"Twenty-eight million of the 47 million uninsured in this country today are small-business owners and small-business employees," she added. "These are hard-working Americans, who are often Americans in need. So having a structure that will help them buy insurance at a reasonable cost, in a competitive way, is fantastic."
Keehan, a member of the Daughters of Charity, was one of the featured speakers at "A Washington Briefing for the Nation's Catholic Community" May 6-7 at Trinity Washington University, which drew more than 100 Catholics from around the country. Most participants came from the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, but several were from distant states, including California, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Georgia and Massachusetts.
Cosponsored by the university and the National Catholic Reporter, the two-day briefing addressed current issues ranging from health care and immigration reform to nuclear disarmament, Catholic education, abortion and the law, U.S.-Vatican relations, clergy sexual abuse of minors, and trends in Catholic public opinion and Catholic voting.
Keehan received a long standing ovation when she was introduced to briefing participants, who were keenly aware of the critical role she played in influencing key pro-life members of Congress to swing the final vote for the health care reform legislation.
The Catholic Health Association was able to back the new federal health care reform law because in the association's judgment the law does not involve federal funding of abortion, she said. In backing the bill, "we were in complete accord with the bishops and our church, that abortion is a grave evil," she added.
She said the association is committed to "protecting life from the moment of conception to natural death," and one of its criteria for any health reform act was that it "not use federal dollars for abortion."
Another was that a reform bill should use federal dollars to provide "coverage for women who are pregnant, especially vulnerable women," she said. She said the bill does that with $250 million directed toward assisting pregnant women and $1 billion in support of adoption.
She said the Catholic Health Association "worked untiringly" with Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., to craft language that would more explicitly bar use of federal funds for abortion in the reform bill after the Senate voted down the no-abortion-funding amendment that Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., had successfully introduced in the original House version of the bill.
The association, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had supported the Stupak amendment and urged its passage in the Senate as well.
When the Senate passed a reform bill without explicit language prohibiting use of any federal funds appropriated by it for elective abortions, the bishops opposed it on two abortion-related grounds:
* That it would federally subsidize insurance plans that include abortion coverage, although the law says that coverage must be segregated financially and paid for entirely by the payments of the insured, not out of federal subsidies;
* That by not explicitly banning use of the appropriated funds for community health centers for elective abortions, the path is open for courts to order those centers to include elective abortion among their services.
Keehan said when the Catholic Health Association reviewed the Senate bill, it did not view it as perfect, but also did not see it as crossing the line into actual federal funding of elective abortion. "We were looking at what seemed extremely adequate protection against abortion," she said.
"We worked many, many hours with the USCCB," she said, but "we were not able to reach an [agreed mutual] understanding of what the Senate bill said. …