In a Washington Post column on Jan. 8, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops outlined several problems with the health care bills proposed by the U.S. House and Senate, including funding for abortion, the lack of conscience protections and access for immigrants to health care.
In her column, titled, “Politics of health care 'reform' can make you sick,” Sr. Walsh recalled that while the bishops have been calling for health care reform for years, the bills proposed by Congress are more about politics, than health.
Sr. Walsh explained that there are five main concerns the U.S. bishops have with the proposed bills, the first being the government funding of abortion.
“The bishops have argued for an 'abortion neutral' bill, so that no one can use health care reform to put money into elective abortions,” she wrote.
Moving to the second problem, Sr. Walsh noted that the bill does not adequately protect conscience rights. “Under both the House and Senate bills, employers such as the Church, may be forced to provide for services that directly violate their teachings.”
She expounded, “There is no way that the church should be required, within its own house, to purchase insurance plans that include procedures the Church opposes.” The final bill, Sr. Walsh suggested, should have language similar to the Weldon Amendment “that prevents federal and state governments from discriminating against hospitals, physicians and nurses that do not perform, refer for, or pay for abortions. Health care facilities and health care personnel have the right to operate according to a value system honoring each human life.”
Focusing on immigration, media relations director described the bills as lacking “basic fairness,” saying that they “leave in place a policy that prevents legal immigrants, that is, people who are on the path to citizenship and pay taxes, from access to health services available to other taxpayers.”
Though they can fight in the Army, these immigrants “are still ineligible for Medicaid for the first five years of their U.S. residency. It is appalling that we can ask people to risk their lives to defend the nation, but cannot let them (have) access to the country's basic health care. Legislators should ensure that any final bill provides equitable access to health care for legal immigrants and their families.”
Sr. Walsh then lamented the fact that “undocumented persons” would not be allowed to purchase the insurance using their own money. This position not only smacks of unfairness - if people want to buy insurance, why not let them? - it is bad economics. The more people in the insurance pool the better.”
Furthermore, she pointed out that “undocumented persons have to rely on the emergency room for basic medical care - the most expensive ordinary care there is - to deal with matters as simple and contagious as strep throat and tuberculosis. If as many as possible had access to decent health care, including care that prevents serious disease or treats it early, keeping the spread of disease in check would have a chance of becoming the rule.”
Finally, Sr. Walsh questioned the affordability of the insurance provided by the current health care reform legislation. “As written now, a family of four earning $29,500 would have to pay four percent of its income for health insurance premiums and would have inadequate protection on high deductibles and co-payments. That's almost $2,000 dollars a year.”
“Look at the cost of food, housing, transportation, and clothing and do the math. It is heartless to force people to have to choose rent over health care or medical treatment over minimum financial solvency.”
Summarizing her points, Sr. Walsh cautioned that if “decent health care becomes a matter of politics over the public good, we'll all lose. That's enough to make you sick.”