The whole point of Rerum Novarum was the Holy Father’s concern for the poor. He warns the wealthy and castigates those who exploit workers. He defends the right of workers to form unions and calls for employers not to exploit their workers, but to care for them–not only paying them proper wages and setting humane working conditions, but also to be concerned for their health and welfare. He says we are our brother’s keeper.
Can a Catholic, in good conscience, therefore support the idea of a government organized health care insurance system? We could not support a monolithic health care system in which all the hospitals and doctor’s offices etc. were forcibly nationalized. That would violate the principle of the right to private property. Nevertheless, we do accept “government ownership” of administrative offices, museums, national parks, defense and military establishments, police and judicial facilities, fire stations, emergency service, schools and state colleges. Therefore, I would see no problem if a local authority wished to fund and build a health clinic or hospital. Neither do I see any intrinsic problem with a government authority setting up a mandatory health insurance program. Such a program is not socialistic. It does not violate the principle of private property any more than any other taxes do.
However, what does trouble me about such a system is where it leads, and its underlying foundation. Practically speaking, the more government takes charge of any service the more it tends to be run badly. Furthermore, whenever government takes over any service that service will be run along secular, humanistic, utilitarian principles. Consequently, our state run educational systems are increasingly not only secular, but atheistic and anti religious. A state run health insurance system would invariably (and we see this happening with the HHS Mandate) impose secular, atheistic, utilitarian principles into health care. Finally, a government run health insurance program may seem innocuous to begin with, but it is one more step toward total control. That is because, those who are promoting the health care reforms are philosophically and ideologically socialist. They believe the solutions are communalistic and the government should control everything.
If we were to take the social teachings of the Catholic Church seriously, then the rich and powerful would ensure that the poor and vulnerable had the health care they needed. Employers would not look for savings on health benefits, but provide them generously for all workers. Those in authority could institute a localized, mandated, government-administered health insurance program. If this local tax were put in place from a philosophical foundation that was not socialist (not seeking to control the service and own property) but out of properly checked and balanced local government authority I see no problem with it.