Religious groups consider merits, flaws of U.S. health care reform proposals

Religious groups consider merits, flaws of U.S. health care reform proposals

Rev. John Hay appearing in an ad urging health care reform
Rev. John Hay appearing in an ad urging health care reform


Responding to some Americans’ displays of vocal opposition to health care legislation, a coalition of religious leaders has launched a national campaign for health care reform, characterizing the matter as a “fundamental religious issue.” However, the Catholic Medical Association severely criticizes the proposal.

The coalition supporting the proposed reform, “40 Days for Health Reform,” includes a television commercial and has planned a conference call with President Barack Obama on August 19. Proposing to hold dozens of prayer vigils, rallies and meetings with politicians from August 11 to September 18, the coalition also requests that clergy preach on health care reform during the last weekend of August.

Its backers include Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. The coalition was organized by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Sojourners, Faith in Public Life, Faithful America, and the PICO National Network.

Coalition members say they see too many people in their pews who struggle with being uninsured or underinsured due to job losses, pre-existing conditions and other factors beyond their control.

Rev. John Hay, an Indianapolis pastor featured in the new commercial, explained that his parishioners lived within walking distance of major hospitals but had to put off serious health problems until they became chronic.

“This is no way for the most blessed country in the world to treat its most vulnerable citizens,” he commented. “This is as much a crisis of faith as it is a crisis of health care.”

"We've come together across the spectrum, across party and political lines, to say that coverage with inclusive, acceptable, affordable health care for all of God's children is for us a moral imperative and a religious issue," said Evangelical Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and moderator of several events at the Democratic National Convention’s Faith Caucus.

"All of God's children need to be covered," he commented.

According to the Religion News Service, Wallis and other participants in the coalition have agreed not to allow “heated differences” over abortion to “sabotage” a health care reform bill so long as the legislation prohibits public funding for the procedure and allows conscience protections for pro-life health care workers.

The Catholic Medical Association issued its own statement on health care reform on July 29, saying it is “particularly concerned” about respect for the conscience rights of health-care providers and any mandates to finance and provide abortion.

CMA’s executive director, John F. Brehany, said that conscience rights are not adequately addressed in any current legislation. He reported that the House Tri-Committee bill on the issue does not even mention the topic and a relevant amendment was defeated.

“This issue is very timely, since the department of Health and Human Services canceled a Conscience Protection Rule earlier this year and has not announced what will replace it,” Brehany said.

“Coercing health-care providers to deny their deepest values and ethical commitment to patients’ well-being will harm the medical profession and undermine trust in the provider-patient relationship,” he continued, noting that President Barack Obama has promised a “robust conscience clause.”

CMA President Louis C. Breschi, M.D., expressed alarm that abortion was not explicitly excluded from health care requirements.

“Few people realize that, as things stand, abortion could be a required benefit in all health insurance plans, and it would be subsidized not only in health-care premiums, but also through taxation. This unjust mandate must be excluded,” Breschi said.

The CMA has also expressed concern about “significant shortcomings” in the economic and clinical aspects of proposed legislation, saying that the proposals do not reduce long-term costs but increase them. It also charges that the proposals rely on “heavy-handed government control” antithetical to the rights of patients and physicians.

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