Friday, December 18, 2009

What's Wrong With the Health Care Bill From a Catholic Perspective

Pilgrims visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes - Patroness of the Sick

What’s wrong with the health care bill from a Catholic perspective? In short, it funds abortion. It does not sufficiently protect the conscience rights of health care workers who refuse to have anything to do with abortion, euthanasia, human cloning or destructive embryonic stem cell research. It rations health care to the sick and the elderly, and the massive government takeover is a violation of a basic principle of Catholic social teaching - the principle of subsidiarity.

Catholics Should Support Real Health Care Reform

One out of every six patients is cared for in a Catholic hospital. There are 624 Catholic hospitals in the United States and 499 Long-Term Care Nursing Facilities as well as numerous home health agencies and hospice organizations. As Catholics who are concerned about the common good we should support health care reform. No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they become sick. The American Bishops agree that providing universal access to health care is the right thing to do.

According to a Census Bureau report published in August of 2008, 35.92 million Americans are uninsured. This number includes 9.1 million people who earn more than $75,000 a year and simply choose not to buy insurance.

1. Those who do not want any health care but would rather have whatever the employer spends on health care given to them in wages;

2. Those who because of changes of employment or medical condition are disqualified from the coverage they formerly had; and

3. Those who have no hope of getting adequate health care (children whose parents do not or cannot provide it for them).

We especially need to help those like children who don’t have coverage because their parents can’t afford it, or those who lose coverage because they lose their job. However, we have a problem and not a crisis. Currently, the vast majority of Americans are happy with their health care coverage. We need to fix what’s not working, but not by completely overhauling the system that is working for overwhelming majority of Americans. Real reform is necessary, but as Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon and an authority on this subject says this health care bill is fatally flawed and the equivalent of giving poisoned water to the thirsty.

The Legislative Process

The current health care reform bill is a work in progress and subject to further negotiation before the Senate votes on it. The majority of Democrats support the bill. The majority of Republicans oppose it. The Republicans can use numerous parliamentary maneuvers to delay the passage of the bill. Sixty votes are necessary for cloture. This means the debate would end and the Senate would then vote on the bill. A simple majority would be enough to pass the bill.

Delegations are then chosen from the Senate and the House of Representatives to draft a compromise bill that both houses of Congress can accept. The bill then goes back to both houses for a vote. If both houses pass the bill, the bill then goes to the President to either sign or veto.

President Obama doesn’t have his own bill. The President has indicated that he is willing to sign practically any bill labeled health care reform that reaches his desk.

The Sunshine Foundation is working to get a proposal passed that would ensure that a bill is posted on the internet at least 72 hours before it is voted on, but this is unlikely to happen despite the fact that President Obama promised this would happen during his campaign.

Goal Posts For True Reform

How to provide universal access to health care is a matter of prudential judgment on which people of good will can disagree, but certain basic values must be protected, especially by those who consider themselves to be serious Catholics.

The Bishops have set out some goal posts as to what is and what is not acceptable reform. Genuine reform must move toward health care that respects the life and dignity of every human being, born and unborn until natural death with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants.

First and most important, the Church will not accept any legislation that mandates public or private coverage and thus makes us complicit in practices that contradict what authentic health care consists of. Abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic stem-cell research are not health care since they all involve the deliberate destruction human life. The Bishops refuse to allow any Catholic parish, school, and diocesan health insurance plans to be forced to include these evils.

We also insist on adequate individual rights of conscience rights of patients and health care providers must be protected. They have a right not to be made complicit in these evils. A so-called reform that imposes these evils on us would be far worse than keeping the health care system we now have.

The Bishops also insist that a variety of options should be preserved. It is also important to restrain costs and apply them equitably across a spectrum of payers.

Abortion IS NOT Health Care

Abortion does not belong in any bill concerning health care. Cardinal Rigali, the Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Pro-Life Activities, says “Abortion – the direct, intentional killing of an unborn girl or boy – is not health care. Abortion robs an innocent child of his or her life, and robs mothers of their peace and happiness…Abortion funding can only increase the number of dead and grieving.”

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey showed that 61 percent of Americans oppose using public money for abortions. Only 37 percent support allowing federal funding of abortion.

But the Senate is ignoring the will of the American people. On December 8, 2009, the Senate defeated an amendment would have excluded funding of abortion from the health care bill. Most Democrats voted to include abortion funding in the bill. The majority of Republicans voted against federal funding of abortion.

The courts have ruled that abortion is basic health care Unless an amendment is passed that specifically excludes abortion from the health care bills, the courts will impose an abortion mandate just as they did with Medicaid.

The abortion lobby is using health care reform to try to end-run around the Hyde Amendment which restricts Medicaid funds for being used to pay for abortions, except for a few hard cases.
If President Obama and the pro-abortion members of Congress want to assure us that the health care reform bills won’t cover abortion, why didn’t they support the numerous amendments that were offered which would have specifically excluded abortion funding and coverage from the bills?

As Cardinal Justin Rigali has written for the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-life Activities, "this bill circumvents the Hyde amendment (which prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions) by drawing funding from new sources not covered by the Hyde amendment, and by creatively manipulating how federal funds covered by the Hyde amendment are accounted. It also provides a “public insurance option” without adequate limits, so that smaller employers especially will have a financial incentive to push all their employees into this public insurance. This will effectively prevent those employees from choosing any private insurance plans. This will saddle the working classes with additional taxes for inefficient and immoral entitlements. The Senate bill, HELP, is better than the House bill, as I understand it. It subsidizes care for the poor, rather than tending to monopolize care. But, it designates the limit of four times federal poverty level for the public insurance option, which still includes more than half of all workers. This would impinge on the vitality of the private sector. It also does not meet the first standard of explicitly excluding mandatory abortion coverage."

Health Care Rationing

The Senate also defeated an amendment that would have removed a provision that establishes that, for at least five years, Medicare physicians who authorize treatments for their patients that wind up in the top 10% of per capita cost for a year will lose 5% of their total Medicare reimbursements for that year. Pro-life advocates say the provision means that all doctors treating older people will feel pressured to order the least expensive tests and treatments for fear that they will be caught in that top 10%.

When the government is the source of funding for health care, rationing is inevitable. Some say rationing is already happening under Medicare, but Medicare should not be the standard that we aim for. Limited government funding should not be the reason that life-sustaining or life-saving care is denied. Do we really want the government to decide what is or is not “futile care” and what lives are and are not worthy of treatment.

Government-run health care means that politicians will direct doctors’ decisions and even override their medical judgment. It will lead to an attitude that “hard choices” have to be made and arguments that some lives are not cost effective to treat. Government-run healthcare will inevitably lead to rationed health care affecting the young, the old, the disabled, and the vulnerable. It is the wrong choice for Americans.

Bishop R. Walter Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City has emphasized that the Church "does not teach that government should directly provide health care," and warned "While a government monopoly would not be motivated by profit, it would be motivated by such bureaucratic standards as quotas and defined 'best procedures,' which are equally beyond the influence of most citizens."

The Principle of Subsidiarity

All of us have a responsibility to work to support the common good of all, but we should avoid thinking that the national government is the sole instrument of the common good. Many different communities within society share this responsibility to work toward the common good

One of the key principles of Catholic social thought is known as the principle of subsidiarity. This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be.

The concept of limited government brilliantly articulated by Founding Fathers of the United States and written into our Constitution is very consistent with the principle of subsidiarity. The Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution states "Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The principle of subsidiarity conflicts with the tendency toward the centralization of government power and the Welfare State.

Catholics believe that government should play a role in regulating the private sector to foster healthy competition and curtail abuses. Government has an essential supplementary role in providing a safety net for those who can’t care for themselves, but government’s role is a limited one. In his 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II said that the Welfare State was contradicting the principle of subsidiarity: "By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending."

When the government fails to respect the role of private initiative in economic matters this also violates the principle of subsidiarity. States, towns, fraternal organizations, businesses, cooperatives, parishes and especially the family have not only legitimate freedom to provide the goods they are rightly capable of supplying, but often times do so with far greater efficiency, less bureaucracy and, most importantly, with personalized care and love. Whenever the federal government takes on tasks that should be limited to families, churches, and other local or state institutions, it usually does a poor job with greater cost.

As Pope Benedict XVI explained so well in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est:

The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself,would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live “by bread alone” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human. (par 28)


The Catholic Church has been advocating for decades that health care should be made more accessible to all, especially to the poor, but current health care bill does not respect human life. Nor does it offer more health care to patients, it simply expands government control of the private sector, tramples on the rights of the individual. It violates the principle of subsidiarity, a sense of solidarity, and does not contribute to the common good. It is fatally flawed and Catholics, other Christians and all people of good will should oppose the current health care bill.

I encourage all of you to make your voice heard to our representatives in Congress. Tell your Senators and Congressperson that no health care reform is better than the wrong sort of health care reform. Powerful forces are pushing our representatives to ignore the will of the American people. We need to insist that our leaders not permit themselves to be railroaded into supporting a bill that does not respect human life, is too costly and centralizes government control. Insist they support proposals that respects the life and dignity of every human person, especially the unborn, elderly and disabled. And above all, pray for our government leaders and for our country.

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