Bishop Nickless provides deeper insight into health care reform

Bishop Nickless provides deeper insight into health care reform

Bishop R. Walker Nickless
Bishop R. Walker Nickless


Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa recently criticized the health care reform legislation under consideration in a letter to his diocese. He explained to CNA why health care beyond the basics is a "political right" and what the government should consider in any reform effort.

In his letter, titled “Voice your concern over health care reform” posted on the Sioux City diocesan website, the bishop noted that health care is not a natural right, such as food, water and air, but rather it is a political one. 

In an email to CNA, Nickless explained that when he calls health care a “political right,” he means “that it depends on other factors than just the nature and dignity of the human person,” such as “practical details” and “our political structures.” 

“Our bodies and minds don’t naturally tend to provide health care,” he added.  “We have to make concrete choices, and make them together as a political society, in order to succeed in providing health care,” he said.

Government's Role

Writing in his letter, Bishop Nickless explained that the decision about whether or not the government should provide health care is a matter of prudential judgment.

In fact, he stated, “the Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care.”

The bishop also explained to CNA that he believes the risks of the “government provision” of health care “outweigh the advantages.”

This “is because a monopoly on health care inevitably fails to respond to the real physical, moral, and spiritual needs of the people,” he said.  Though this is also true of a private monopoly, he noted.

However, if the government provides health care, it would involve “excessive taxation,” as well as “bureaucratic violations of the unborn and people in persistent vegetative states,” the Sioux City bishop said.

Though “such risks clearly outweigh the benefits,” this “doesn’t mean the government should have nothing to do with health care,” stated Nickless. Rather, the role the government should play is one dedicated to protecting “conscience rights of patients and health care providers, to foster the proper kinds of market competition, and to curb abuses.”

Affording Health Care

In his letter, the bishop explained that it is best to spread health care costs over a large amount of people.  In doing this, he continued, we are building a culture of life.  However, since we lack a “growing population of youth, our growing population of retirees is outstripping our distribution systems. In a culture of death such as we have now, taxation to redistribute costs of medical care becomes both unjust and unsustainable.”

When asked how the government can promote life, the bishop responded that besides laws to protect the dignity of the human person, the government can do two things.  First, it can make a commitment to the “proper regulatory and adjudicatory roles of government” instead of a commitment to “government provision of direct services.” In most areas, he continued, this would help build “more popular engagement in civil life, and more of the proper respect for authority.”

Bishop Nickless also noted that both churches and church-run hospitals provide a large amount of social and health care to all citizens at a fraction of the cost of government programs.

“Rather than government taking that role away from churches, government should actively support how our churches do these things,” he said.

In his letter to the faithful, Bishop Nickless also tackled the HR 3200 House reform bill, explaining that it provides a public insurance option lacking adequate limits, thereby giving smaller businesses “a financial incentive to push all their employees into this public insurance.”

“This will saddle the working classes with additional taxes for inefficient and immoral entitlements,” he explained.

The bishop then referred to Bishop William Murphy’s July 17 letter to Congress which suggested that the government “could directly support poor families up to 200 percent of federal poverty level by subsidizing their monthly health insurance premiums, and could directly support poor children by mandating Medicare for all children up to 150 percent of federal poverty level, and CHIP up to 300 percent.  It seems to me that these kinds of levels are more reasonable and practicable than the 400 percent of poverty level subsidized in the Senate HELP bill, and the lack of designated limits in the House bill HR 3200.”

In closing his letter, the bishop encouraged the faithful to contact their congressional representatives about the issue and to pray for them as well.