Bishops Seek Truly Universal Health Care

Sister Mary Ann WalshThe health care reform discussion goes on and on and seems to be the same political football it was leading up to its passage. Its approval last spring came after a fierce legislative fight, and there has been little consensus since government set out to implement it.

Whatever one feels about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the fact is that tens of thousands of Americans are without health care insurance. This creates a health-care crisis for the nation.

This nation needs universal health care, which the U.S. bishops have argued for, for decades. The bishops' objections to the bill that passed stemmed from its lack of universality. For one thing, the bishops found that the bill did not protect the life of the unborn child. The bishops' concern was borne out afterward as some states sought to use newly-available health care funds for elective abortions. After some cried "foul," the Secretary for Health and Human Services advised these states that such funding was not permitted. Any cleaning up of the bill now ought to guarantee that funds for health care should not be used for elective abortions.

Another concern of the bishops is protection of the conscience rights of institutions. Most people understand the need to respect the conscience of an individual, a conscience correctly formed through education and prayer. An institution also has conscience rights, including the right to follow the teachings of its sponsoring organization. No religious organizations should be forced to purchase coverage for procedures it does not approve of, such as contraception and sterilization. No government should force an institution to practice medicine or purchase medical services that run contrary to its basic tenets. Not just the institution but a pluralistic America would suffer if such a right were denied.

The bishops also seek to protect access to health care for immigrants. The right to health care is a basic right. Every individual has a right to defend his or her life, even against disease. There also are practical reasons to support providing health care for immigrants in our country, including the fact that a contagious illness in one person can quickly become illness in others. The bill that was passed last spring would not even allow some immigrants to purchase health care insurance.

A few lawmakers have proposed legislation that could clean up the bill, now. Reps. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) and Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) introduced a bill in the last Congress to guarantee that current decades-old federal policy that precludes using federal money for elective abortions would apply to health care reform legislation. The bill did not receive active consideration then, but the congressmen are expected to reintroduce such legislation for this Congress. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) offered legislation to allow organizations to provide health care insurance that is consistent with their values. That also did not receive active consideration and Rep. Fortenberry is expected to bring forth this issue again in this Congress.

Right now the effort to obtain universal health care continues and the bishops stand behind it. They seek universality, a health care that protects everyone, the immigrant, the unborn, and the weak at all stages of life. It is a position that can only help the nation. It's a position that, in the least, protects pluralism and, most importantly, protects human life.