Thursday, February 3, 2011

On Health Care, the Bishops Show the Way Forward

In the recent debate and votes to repeal last year's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. the health care bill, the U.S. bishops were largely absent from the "to repeal or not repeal" debate. That's not to say the bishops didn't weigh in. The chairmen of the USCCB committees relevant to health care reform (Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Stephen Blaire, Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Archbishop José Gomez, Migration) sent the same letter to the U.S. House and Senate as each body prepared to vote on repeal:

Dear Represenative/Senator:

As the House/Senate prepares to resume debate on health care reform, we wish to make clear the position and priorities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on this vitally important issue.

Throughout the last Congress the Catholic bishops of the United States affirmed our strong support for universal access to health care. Basic health care for all is a moral imperative, not yet completely achieved. It has never been, and is not now, for the bishops to decide the best means to realize that essential goal. However, regardless of which means are chosen, they must fall within certain fundamental moral parameters, which the bishops have a duty to articulate strongly and clearly. We have urged and continue to urge that legislation on health care reform reflect the following three moral criteria:

- Ensure access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all;
- Retain longstanding requirements that effectively protect conscience rights and that prohibit use of federal funds for elective abortions or plans that include them; and
- Protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access.

Rather than joining efforts to support or oppose the repeal of the recently enacted health care law, we will continue to devote our efforts to correcting serious moral problems in the current law, so health care reform can truly be life-affirming for all.

In the 111th Congress, H.R. 5111 was introduced by Congressmen Pitts and Lipinski to ensure that the new health care law will maintain longstanding federal policies on abortion in the areas of federal funding and conscience rights. H.R. 6570 was also introduced by Congressman Fortenberry to ensure that all people -- Catholics and others alike -- maintain their current ability under federal law to provide and purchase health coverage that is consistent with their faith and values. We will strongly support laws like these in the new Congress and we will seek ways to ensure a more just health care system for immigrant families.

For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for reform of our health care system so all may have access to care that recognizes and affirms their human dignity. As Pope Benedict recently stated, in the health care sector “it is important to establish a real distributive justice which, on the basis of objective needs, guarantees adequate care to all.” Moreover, “if it is not to become inhuman, the world of health care cannot disregard the moral rules that must govern it” (Message to the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, November 15, 2010). We wholeheartedly commit ourselves to health care reform that achieves these worthy goals. We will advocate for addressing the current problems in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as well as others that may become apparent in the course of its implementation.

So rather than entering the new debate, the bishops reaffirmed, as they did time and again during last year's health care debate, their principles that health care reform must make health care accessible and affordable to all, that it must protect human life and conscience and that it must be fair to immigrants.

Now that the repeal movement has ended with yesterday's vote in the Senate, the position of the bishops really seems to offer a way forward, that is, fixing the serious moral flaws of health care reform one piece at a time.

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