Monday, August 31, 2009

The Queue

At this morning's news conference announcing Bishop Joseph Martino's resignation from the Diocese of Scranton, a reporter asked how long it might take the pope to appoint another bishop to the diocese. Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali said he would hope a new bishop would come within 6 months. As a member of the Congregation for Bishops (the Vatican office that oversees bishop appointments), Cardinal Rigali knew what he was doing when he refused to say definitively how long such a process would take.

After all, Scranton is the latest of several appointments-in-waiting in the U.S. Church, which come about either due to vacancy or a bishop's serving past the retirement age of 75. In all, Scranton brings the total of waiting U.S. dioceses to 17. In chronological order by how long they've been waiting for a new bishop, the vacant sees are:

Cheyenne -- vacant since July 9, 2008, when Bishop David Ricken was appointed Bishop of Green Bay.
Duluth -- vacant since October 17, 2008, when then-Bishop Dennis Schnurr was appointed coadjutor Archbishop of Cincinnati.
Owensboro -- vacant since January 5, 2009, when Bishop John McRaith retired.
Milwaukee -- vacant since February 23, 2009, when Archbishop Timothy Dolan was named Archbishop of New York.
Ogdensburg -- vacant since April 21, 2009, when Bishop Robert Cunningham was appointed Bishop of Syracuse.
Springfield, Ill. -- vacant since June 3, 2009, when then-Bishop George Lucas was named Archbishop of Omaha.
Austin -- vacant since June 12, 2009, when then-Bishop Gregory Aymond was named Archbishop of New Orleans.
Scranton -- vacant since August 31, 2009, when Bishop Joseph Martino resigned.

Along with vacant dioceses, dioceses whose bishops are serving past the age of retirement are also currently awaiting bishop appointments. By age of bishop, they are:

For Wayne-South Bend -- Bishop John D'Arcy is 77.
Pueblo -- Bishop Arthur Tafoya is over 76.
Lafayette, Ind. -- Bishop William Higi is 76.
Corpus Christi -- Bishop Edmond Carmody is 75.
Seattle -- Archbishop Alexander Brunett is 75.
Brownsville -- Bishop Raymundo Pena is 75.
Spokane -- Bishop William Skylstad is 75.
Gaylord -- Bishop Patrick Cooney is 75.
Oklahoma City -- Archbishop Eusebius Beltran is 75.

It's worth mentioning that the Archbishop of Cincinnati, Daniel Pilarczyk, is also serving past 75, but his successor has already been named, the aforementioned coadjutor Archbishop Dennis Schnurr.

With this sort of list, we'll see if Cardinal Rigali's hope comes to pass. Ultimately, each vacancy will be filled as the Congregation for Bishops is able to identify an appointee who meets the needs of each diocese. It's hard to assign a timetable to that. Meticulous research and vetting goes into a typical appointment, and as the above list suggests, a diocese can wait as long as a year or two.

Hat tip to David Cheney.

Health Care Distortions Part 1

Here at the Conference, we spent much of the month of August promoting the bishops' position on health care reform. This has been most evident in the new Web page dedicated to everything health care. The promotion of the page has led to some good media coverage, with some outlets really getting the idea of the two-fold message of the bishops, that is, strong support for health care reform, particularly affordable universal health care, but strong opposition to mandated coverage of abortion, federal funding of abortion and threats to conscience protection.

This has also led to media coverage that disparages and misrepresents the bishops' position, for instance this August 18 piece from Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, which appeared in the Huffington Post. While the bishops never dignified this piece with an official response, Richard Doerflinger, longtime pro-life expert for the USCCB answered many of her points in a later article.

I asked Deirdre McQuade, spokesperson for the USCCB's Pro-Life Secretariat, for some observations on the Planned Parenthood accusations.

Richards attacks the bishops for opposing federal abortion coverage, funding, etc., finding it "ironic," as if that opposition undermines the call for universal coverage. But McQuade noted, "First of all, Richards really doesn't get what universal health care means. 'Universal' health care means coverage for all people. In the bishops' definition of all people, this includes the poor, immigrants and the unborn."

McQuade added, "'Universal coverage' means that all human beings in need should have access to health care, not that all health plans should cover whatever elective procedures Richards favors. Our Catholic vision -- far from being exclusive or limiting -- supports the most inclusive definition of universal coverage."

McQuade then explained why the exclusion of abortion is completely fitting for the bishops' vision of health care.

"It's simple," she said. "Abortion is not medical care. Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition. Pregnant women are not carriers of illness but human beings with dignity who deserve optimum care along with their children, born and unborn."

Richards also casts the bishops as being out of step with the mainstream and using health care reform to advance their agenda. But McQuade pointed out that the bishops are actually standing up for longstanding and widely supported laws (i.e., the Hyde Amendment) when they oppose federal funding for abortion. Apparently, not only have federal funds long been kept from abortion, but even federal employee health benefits packages (the packages enjoyed by members of Congress) do not cover the vast majority of abortions.

"Since Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortions in the United States, it is perhaps not surprising that Richards wants to consider abortion on demand an essential part of health care," McQuade said. "But most American disagree, and most doctors, nurses and hospitals do not provide abortions. It's really not that difficult to understand that killing is not a form of healing."

In light of these details, Richards' Huffington Post piece takes on something of "when you point a finger, three point back" in terms of her accusations that the bishops are trying to hijack health care for their own agenda. Richards, according to McQuade, "is the one pushing for unprecedented changes in our health care system that have little to do with health care itself and much more to do with promoting abortion -- her very limited agenda. She is the one trying to shift the status quo and who is out of sync with public opinion. Even self-described 'pro-choice' Americans often oppose subsidizing abortion with their own tax dollars."

The bishops, on the other hand, are the ones doing as they've always done, advocating for accessible, affordable health care for everyone, especially the poor and the vulnerable, including the unborn.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Inmigrantes legales y reforma sanitaria

The following is a Spanish version of the August 19 blog post, Legal Immigrants and Health Care Reform.

¿Por qué debería incluir a los inmigrantes legales cualquier plan que emerja del actual debate sobre la reforma del sistema de salud? La respuesta debería ser obvia: los inmigrantes documentados son residentes legales, y en muchos casos permanentes, en los Estados Unidos. Trabajan —con autorización del gobierno— y pagan impuestos al igual que hacen los ciudadanos, así que deberían poder acceder beneficios federales que garantizan la defensa de derechos humanos fundamentales.

El asunto que se discute tiene que ver con si los inmigrantes documentados tendrán que continuar esperando cinco años antes de poder ser elegibles para Medicaid, lo cual es ley actualmente, y si esta prohibición debería extenderse a inmigrantes legales que gozan de mayores ingresos económicos y que, de no existir esta prohibición, serían elegibles para recibir subsidios que les ayuden a comprar seguro médico.

Los que se oponen a la inclusión de los inmigrantes legales dicen que cualquier plan debe incluir sólo a los ciudadanos estadounidenses. También sugieren que el costo de incluir a los inmigrantes legales sería prohibitivo. La verdad es que los números no dan soporte a tales afirmaciones.

Según la fundación no partidista Kaiser Foundation, los no ciudadanos tienen menor acceso a servicios médicos y reciben menor atención médica primaria que los ciudadanos estadounidenses pero también son menos dados a usar los servicios de urgencia. Un artículo del pasado mes de julio (2009) en la revista médica American Journal of Public Health apoya estas otras afirmaciones.

Según el Immigration Policy Center (Centro de Política Inmigratoria), un inmigrante promedio utiliza menos de la mitad de la cantidad en dólares de servicios primarios de salud que lo que usa un ciudadano estadounidense nativo medio. Esto se debe a que los inmigrantes son normalmente más jóvenes, saludables y menos inclinados al uso de servicios médicos, y también al hecho de que el 78% de las personas no ancianas sin seguro médico en Estados Unidos son ciudadanos americanos.

Aquellos que se oponen a la inclusión automática de residentes permanentes y otros inmigrantes legales deberían hacer números de nuevo. Cuando los costos de salud se distribuyen entre un mayor número de personas, que además en este caso tienden a usar menos estos servicios, el coste por persona disminuye para todos.

Este mismo año se aprobó una ley que permite a mujeres embarazadas y niños que son inmigrantes legales acceder a los beneficios del programa State Children’s Health Insurance Program, conocido como SCHIP por sus siglas en inglés. Todas las mujeres embarazadas y los niños, independientemente de su estatus migratorio, deberían recibir cobertura médica para asegurar, en la medida de lo posible, que los bebés nazcan saludables y que los niños reciben chequeos médicos y vacunas con regularidad.

Los inmigrantes legales pagan impuestos, así que deberían poder acceder a los beneficios como cualquier otro contribuyente.

Estados Unidos reconoció que la atención médica es un derecho humano universal cuando firmó a la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos del 10 de diciembre de 1948 (véase artículo 25). Nuestro país tiene, sin embargo, un record más que dudoso en la defensa de este derecho para su población. Cuarenta y siete millones de personas sin seguro médico son un poderoso testigo en contra nuestra.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Walking the Walk Amid the Health Care Talk

At Providence Hospital, barely five miles from the U.S. Capitol, a broken arm gets you a cast -- and a new pair of shoes. A pain in your right side leads to an appendectomy -- and a new shirt.

At Providence, homeless patients find quality medical care and practical assistance at the Sister's Clothes Closet, which provides everything from new shoes and undergarments to lightly used or new shirts and pants. Providence Health Foundation buys them or collects them from donors for patients who need them.

That's typical of the care provided through the Catholic Church and its nationwide network of hospitals. The Catholic Church walks the walk on health care. Its voice deserves to be heard.

The church seeks four things in health care reform:

1. Respect for life and dignity, from conception to natural death.
2. Access for all, especially the poor and legal immigrants.
3. Pluralism, both through freedom of conscience and a variety of health care options.
4. Equitable cost, applied fairly across the spectrum of payers.

What the church does not want is abortion. Abortion does not cure people; it snuffs out human life. The Hyde Amendment precludes using federal funds for abortion, and that same restriction ought to govern programs emerging from health care reform.

If there's anything that will sink a health care reform bill, it's including a procedure that more than half the nation finds morally and fiscally repugnant. Americans do not want to make a fiscal sacrifice for the taking of innocent life.

Catholic hospitals provide threads of steel in the nation's frayed health care fabric. They serve everyone. In Baltimore, for example, when the city was yielding to urban blight, Mercy Medical Center refused to join the exodus from the inner city. While others escaped, Mercy Medical (named for its founders, the Sisters of Mercy) stayed. Today, it is the city's first line of defense for injured police and firefighters.

Mercy Medical's commitment to the poor can be measured in real dollars. In the most recent fiscal year (2008), the hospital and its affiliated long-term care facility, Stella Maris, underwrote the cost of care for persons unable to pay to the tune of $39.8 million dollars.

At Providence, founded at the behest of President Lincoln by the Daughters of Charity, administrators provided $17.3 million in uncompensated care to the poor the same year.
Catholic hospitals respect the life of everyone, from the newly conceived to those fading into the eternal light. Quality care trumps a patient's financial status, race or religion. In the U.S., one out of every six patients needing a hospital admission goes to a Catholic hospital. These hospitals cost about $84.6 billion to run, including at least $5.7 billion worth of donated services.

Many Catholic hospitals were started by nuns when public hospitals wouldn't provide care for the indigent. Today, the focus on those most in need continues, as people of all socio-economic levels find care -- not just in these hospitals, but also in their outreach services in the community.

The church's commitment to U.S. health care can be documented in hard numbers: 624 hospitals; 499 long-term nursing care facilities; 164 home health agencies; 41 hospice organizations; and 773 other health care facilities, such as those that offer assisted living, adult day care and senior housing.

The American Hospital Association reported in its 2007 annual survey that Catholic hospitals provide nearly 17 million emergency room visits and more than 92.7 million outpatient visits in one year alone. Catholic hospitals counted 5.5 million admissions the same year, according to the
Catholic Health Association.

Rooted in respect for the intrinsic dignity of human life, the church has the moral authority to speak out on health care. Its extensive reach adds further authority born of knowledge and experience.

When it comes to health care reform, Congress and the White House need to hear the church out.

c. 2009 Religion News Service

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Legal Immigrants and Health Care Reform

Why should any plan that emanates form the current national debate on health care reform include legal immigrants? The answer should be obvious: legal immigrants are lawful -- and in many cases permanent -- residents of the United States. They work -- with government authorization -- and pay taxes into the system just as U.S. citizens do and, thus should be able to access federal benefits that guarantee the protection of basic human rights.

The issue revolves around whether legal immigrants must continue to wait five years before they become eligible for Medicaid, which is the current law (otherwise known as “the five-year ban”), and whether the five-year ban should be extended to legal immigrants of higher incomes who otherwise would become eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance.

Opponents say legal immigrants are not U.S. citizens and that any plan should only include U.S. citizens. They also suggest that the cost of including legal immigrants would be prohibitive. The truth is that the numbers do not support such claims.

According to the non-partisan Kaiser Foundation, non-citizens have less access to health care and receive less primary health care than U.S. citizens, but they are also less likely to use the emergency room. A July 2009 article in the American Journal of Public Health supports this claim.

According to the Immigration Policy Center, the average immigrant uses less than half the dollar amount of health care services than the average native-born U.S. citizen. This is because they are usually younger, healthier and less likely to use medical services, and due to the fact that U.S. citizens make up 78% of the non-elderly uninsured.

Opponents of the inclusion of legal permanent residents should check their math. When health costs are distributed across a broader pool of people, who in addition tend to use those services less, the overall costs for everyone goes down.

Earlier this year, legal immigrant pregnant women and children became eligible for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). All pregnant women and children, regardless of their immigration status, should receive coverage to ensure that newborns are healthy and children receive regular check ups and vaccinations.

Legal immigrants pay into the system, so they should be able to access the benefits, just like everyone else.

The United States recognized that health care is a universal human right when it signed on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 (see Article 25). We have, however, a less than convincing record on upholding this right for our population. Forty-seven million uninsured people are a powerful witness against us.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care Site (and Videos) Up!

We announced on Friday that the Conference has launched a Web page promoting the U.S. bishops' position on health care reform.

Along with the various backgrounders, letters from bishops and other information on the topic, the site features a handful of strong Web videos with USCCB staff explaining aspects of Catholic teaching on health care reform.

First is Kathy Saile, director of Domestic Social Development, who gives an overview of the issue.

Following this video, Richard Doerflinger, associate director of Pro-Life Activities, elaborates on protecting the life and dignity of every person by providing some history and context for how abortion fits into the health care reform debate.

Doerflinger gets even more specific in the next video in which he explores the concerns the bishops have with the current House health care reform bill.

He then speaks to the whole issue of health care from a Catholic perspective that is in favor of reform, in favor of universal coverage that includes the poor and immigrants, but which also defends human life from conception till natural death. The way he unifies these ideas as part of a consistent, life-affirming ethic is well done.

Finally, Doerflinger addresses what Catholics can do, noting the need to get involved in the discussion and stand together, saying yes to health care reform, but reform that protects the life and dignity of every person.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

And Now Facebook

So it seems one of the projects that I could only hint at in the last blog post has come to fruition more quickly than expected. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops now has an official page on Facebook.

This page follows Twitter and this blog in terms of social media outreach by the Communications and Media Relations wing of the USCCB. Hopefully, the Facebook page will complete this picture, adding pictures, videos, forums for discussion, and links to USCCB and other content. This is all a work in progress, mind you, but these are our hopes.

So for any Facebook users who follow us on here or on Twitter, we happily suggest following the link in the first paragraph above and becoming a fan.

A side note -- our page should not to be mistaken with a pre-existing Facebook group that, despite its lack of affiliation, seems to suggest that it is part of our organization. This is not the case.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Mid Summer Day's Roundup

As summer wears on, things have been pretty quiet here on the blog and over at our Twitter handle. But life in the USCCB Media Relations office is still busy enough.

Reporters wanting an interview on health care, letters circulating to various officials on various issues, policy people working overtime behind the scenes, and ongoing efforts to embrace ever newer forms of social media -- it's all making for a surprisingly lively summer.

The only problem of it is that so little of it is blog or Twitter worthy.

While Catholic News Service still has plenty to report on, between the Congressional August recess and the Holy See being rather quiet for this month, the best I can urge on our end is a hopefully-reassuring "stay tuned."