From the Bishops Health care reform

For many months, in fact, for many years, our country has been focused on the need for national health care reform legislation. In the heat of the current debate, the attention at times seems to be directed more to payment reform than to health reform. In every instance, fundamental issues are at stake.


The needs are acute, and the matters are complicated. Thousands of pages and various bills have been written for health care legislation. Still, there is much confusion and misinformation. There is a clear need for clarification on principles and policies relating to health care.


The Catholic Church has a strong history in health care. We provide a significant percentage of the health care services offered in the United States. We have a long, consistent, and distinguished tradition of teaching on ethics of health care. We purchase health care and we regularly provide safety nets for people who would otherwise fall through the cracks of inadequate and broken health care systems.


In this context, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops articulates a message that is clear, nonpartisan, and principled:


1. We support universal health coverage which protects the life and dignity of all, especially those who are poor and vulnerable. Universal coverage should be truly universal, assuring decent health care for all from conception to natural death.


2. We oppose any efforts to expand abortion funding, mandate abortion coverage, or endanger the conscience rights of health care providers and religious institutions. Longstanding and widely supported current policies on these issues must be preserved. We urge members of the House and Senate to take all steps necessary to oppose abortion funding, mandated abortion coverage, or weakening of conscience rights.


3. We support effective measures to safeguard the health of immigrants, their children, and all of society by expanding eligibility for public programs, such as Medicaid, to all low-income families and vulnerable people and by offering adequate subsidies for cost-sharing of insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.


As we say, these matters are highly complex, and the tremendous challenge is the payment for health care and health care reform.


We do insist that any health care reform must keep in place the existing federal protections against abortion funding and mandates. We urge emphatic support for conscience protection and respect for existing laws which restrict abortion.

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We hear frequently the expression that health care reform should be kept "abortion neutral." Obviously, we are not neutral on abortion. In this instance, however, keeping health care reform "neutral" on abortion means applying the Hyde Amendment prohibiting abortion funding to new federal programs. It also means keeping in place existing laws restricting abortion, as well as conscience protection regarding abortion and other morally objectionable procedures. Simply put, abortion is not health care.


We must continue to advocate for these issues with our Senators and Representatives. These are matters of the highest priority. We saw how effective our postcard campaign against the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) was this past year. FOCA would have mandated health care institutions and workers to provide abortions regardless of their convictions in conscience. The massive postcard campaign against FOCA certainly stopped the momentum for FOCA, but we have to remain vigilant and proactive on this and all the related issues, from the beginning of life to its natural end.


The debates and deliberations will continue. Partisanship and ideologies will be much in evidence. It is our urgent responsibility to work and to voice our convictions from the perspective of our fundamental principles. Our concerns for the vulnerable extend from the infant in the womb to the frail elderly and everyone in between.


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Printed with permission from the Catholic Transcript.

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