In a letter sent to the U.S. Senate on September 30, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Bishop William Murphy and Bishop John Wester, chairs of the USCCB committees on Pro-Life Activities, Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Migration, respectively, raised their concerns on behalf of the U.S. episcopate over the issues of human life and dignity, coverage of legal immigrants and affordability in the current health care debate.
"Our Catholic moral tradition teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity," the bishops wrote. "These moral principles and our everyday experience lead us to work for three central priorities for health care reform."
The bishops outlined three criteria that need special attention as legislation moves forward: respect for human life and dignity, affordability and the inclusion of legal immigrants.
"Health care reform legislation should reflect longstanding and widely supported current policies on abortion funding, mandates and conscience protections because they represent sound morality, wise policy and political reality," the letter says.
The three bishops lamented the fact that, so far, there is no sign that the commitments made by President Barack Obama during his September 10 speech to Congress are being accounted for in the Senate's version of health care reform.
"So far the health reform bills considered in committee, including the new Senate Finance Committee bill, have not met President Obama’s challenge of barring use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws. These deficiencies must be corrected," the bishops insisted.
On affordability, the bishops criticized the Senate Finance Committee bill because it "would impose financial burdens on low-income and moderate-income families and those families with significant and chronic illnesses." They urged Congress to support measures that would help low-income families, including further limiting premium costs and other out of pocket expenses for all citizens and legal immigrants.
"The Catholic bishops renew our appeal to provide equity for legal immigrants in access to health care," the letter states. "Immigrants pay the same taxes as citizens and their health needs cannot be ignored. Leaving them outside a reformed system is both unfair and unwise," the bishops concluded.
The full text of the bishops’ letter is available at www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/2009-09-30-healthcare-letter-senate.pdf.