A group of Hispanic Catholic bishops visited with members of Congress on Capitol Hill September 17 to emphasize, as they’ve done for decades, the U.S. bishops are in favor of health care reform that is truly universal and respects the life and dignity of all -- from the moment of conception until natural death.
There were other issues on the agenda: immigration reform, education, housing and poverty. The bishops came away feeling that they had been given the opportunity to touch, briefly, on all the issues in each of the meetings. The congressmen were not only courteous but truly engaged on each of the issues. On the bishops’ side the experience was positive.
At the media briefing immediately after the meetings, the questions posed to the bishops narrowed the focus to the current debate on health care reform, particularly as it relates to immigrants. No surprise here.
There are immigrants and immigrants. Not to oversimplify the content of the dialogue, here is what the bishops actually told legislators: that any health care reform bill must allow legal immigrants -- most of whom are taxpayers and many of whom serve in the military -- to participate in any new health care system on the same basis as United States citizens.
The issue of health care for undocumented immigrants was raised during the meetings in the context of a recent proposal in the Baucus Health Care Reform Bill -- currently being considered on the Senate Finance Committee, which Senator Baucus chairs -- to bar undocumented immigrants from spending their own private funds to purchase health insurance for themselves and their families. The bishops expressed opposition to such proposals, telling legislators that proactively barring individuals from spending their own money on health insurance is both morally wrong and contrary to the public welfare. The bishops pointed out that if undocumented immigrants are not permitted to use their own private funds to purchase health insurance, they will wind up going to emergency rooms in greater numbers, which American taxpayers would ultimately have to fund.
Noting that unborn children of pregnant women in the United States will be United States citizens upon birth, the bishops expressed support for ensuring that all pregnant women have access to health care, regardless of their immigration status. The bishops also urged legislators to ensure that no public funds are used to pay for abortions and medical providers are permitted to decline to participate in medical procedures that conflict with their conscience.
A summary of the key points on other topics discussed with legislators can be found here.