Reform and the Church (Health Care Part 2)

reformandchurch-flashOur baby is due mid-February and in last week’s post I wrote about how our health insurance plan does not cover maternity care.  In fact, many pregnant women are not cared for adequately by our health care system in its current form.

Bringing up the subject of health care reform is a risky move these days as the issue has become an increasingly hostile partisan debate.  Just turn on the TV or radio and you will witness mud-slinging and fear-mongering on both sides of the aisle.  Both sides would agree our current health care system needs some kind of change, but it’s hard to know which side and which arguments to support.

The media likes to report on what the Catholic Church says about certain hot-button issues.  Every time I hear a news story attempting to explain the Church’s stance, I usually end up mad at the Church, expressing, “Come on Church, that can’t be right.”  Then I turn to the USCCB website and read up on what the Church’s actual response is and realize how unclear and slanted the media can be in explaining the Church’s stance on matters.

This happened with health care reform.  I was upset with the Church because of how it was being portrayed on the news until I decided to read what the bishops were actually saying.  Despite how some try to explain it, the Church’s teachings are non-partisan.  I realized how important it is to read actual Church documents rather than just get Church Cliff Notes from the 5 o’clock news.

“Basic health care for all is a moral imperative.” – Archbishop Dolan

Access to universal health care is not a question.  For decades, the Church has stated that there should be access for all people to universal health care.  Case open and shut.  Of course how to get this to happen is open to debate but there is no question in the Church’s point of view that everyone should have easy and affordable access to health care for themselves and their family.  They go so far as to state that it is a basic human right.  Most recently, the Church has stated that now is the time to devote energies to correcting the current law through further legislation rather than wasting energy trying to do away with whole thing.

The USCCB opposed the recent health care legislation mainly because of three issues:

ISSUE #1: The language in the legislation does not specifically state that no government funding will go toward paying for elective abortions.

This is the part that had me mad at the Church.  Wait, wait – of course I don’t want any government funding to go to pay for abortions but I couldn’t understand why the Church was making such a big stink about it when the Hyde Amendment and President Obama’s executive order clearly stated that no government funding would be used for abortions.  I didn’t understand why this wasn’t enough for the bishops.  It was enough for me.

Then I came to understand that the Hyde Amendment has to be re-passed every year and only covers certain funding given to health care institutions.  It does not cover all funding given to health care entities.  So while this policy has consistently been upheld in Congress for the last 35 years, there is a chance that it may change one day.  This was not enough to convince the U.S. bishops of the health care reform’s abortion neutral authenticity.  The USCCB wants a law to clearly state that not a single penny of government funding will ever be used for abortions instead of just hoping that Congress will continue the precedent it has been following.

ISSUE #2: Excludes immigrants.

Sadly, one thing the health care reform did not provide is a way for immigrants to be able to purchase its “universal” health care.  The Church has always upheld the rights of the immigrant, legal or not.  Again, the Church is clear on this: immigrants, even if undocumented, should have access to affordable health care.  Under the new legislation, legal immigrants are only eligible for limited coverage.  As for undocumented immigrants, even if they wanted to pay for a government insurance plan in full with no subsidy, they are not allowed to do so. This is not only a shame, but also it forces people to wait until their health concerns are emergency room material.

ISSUE #3: Does not have specific language protecting the consciences of doctors and institutions from refusing services they believe to be morally wrong.

Again, this is similar to the Hyde Amendment problem.  Congress has upheld certain amendments for conscience protections but they must be renewed each year.   The bishops don’t want to depend on these passages from year to year.

A big part of the beef the bishops have with the reform is that they want guaranteed laws passed to affirm the abortion neutrality of the health care system and to affirm conscience protections.  Not just a good faith statement or a gentleman’s agreement, but a law.  That makes sense.

In my own family, talking about our health insurance wants and needs does not rank very high on our list of discussion topics with our friends, but after writing last week’s post many friends have confided in me their own struggles navigating the anxiety-ridden waters of the health care system.  I was not surprised when quite a few actually admitted that they too did not have maternity coverage.  I should have been surprised.  Pregnant women are among the most vulnerable and in need of care.  There are about 6 million pregnancies in America every year.  Such a huge part of the population should get the support they need from our health care system.  I know our story is just one story, but it is a common story and it shouldn’t be.  We need health care reform.  So let’s do what the bishops recommend – let’s fix what needs fixing and start insuring the uninsured.