Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The US Catholic Bishops and Health Care Reform: A Failure of Imagination

Sadly, the bishops have misunderstood the entire process, and now we will all pay

Folks, according to Catholic World News:
Denouncing current Senate health care legislation as deficient because it provides federal funding for abortions and leaves Catholic hospitals and physicians bereft of conscience protection, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasized in a December 22 letter that “until these fundamental flaws are remedied the bill should be opposed.”

The three coauthors of the letter-- Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City-- noted that the legislation
violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions -- a policy upheld in all health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment as well as in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- and now in the House-passed “Affordable Health Care for America Act.” We believe legislation that fails to comply with this policy and precedent is not true health care reform and should be opposed until this fundamental problem is remedied.

Despite claims to the contrary, the House-passed provision on abortion keeps in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective abortions and plans that include elective abortions. It does not restrict abortion, or prevent people from buying insurance covering abortion with their own funds. It simply ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions. The public consensus on this point is borne out by many opinion surveys, including the new Quinnipiac University survey of December 22 showing 72 percent opposed to public funding of abortion in health care reform legislation.

The abortion provisions in the Manager’s Amendment to the Senate bill do not maintain this commitment to the legal status quo on abortion funding. Federal funds will help subsidize, and in some cases a federal agency will facilitate and promote, health plans that cover elective abortions. All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions in a very direct and explicit way, through a separate premium payment designed solely to pay for abortion. There is no provision for individuals to opt out of this abortion payment in federally subsidized plans, so people will be required by law to pay for other people’s abortions. States may opt out of this system only by passing legislation to prohibit abortion coverage. In this way the longstanding and current federal policy universally reflected in all federal health programs, including the program for providing health coverage to Senators and other federal employees, will be reversed. That policy will only prevail in states that take the initiative of passing their own legislation to maintain it.
Please continue reading here.

Commentary. I think that the bishops attempted to negotiate with the devil to no avail. They thought they could influence our lawmakers to provide us a "clean" government takeover of the nation's health care system, "clean" in the sense they hoped this "reform" would include strong conscience protections while defunding abortion, without objecting to the basic premise of unprecendent governmet growth.

With all due respect to our pastors, our bishops have been wrong all along for advocating a government takeover of the US health care sector in the name of "social justice." Frankly, they haven't argued convincingly how an expansion of the free market would have hurt, rather than helped those who are most in need, making the public option necessary. In the words of the Venerable Pope John Paul the Great in his masterful encyclical, Centesimus Annus:
34. It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. But this is true only for those needs which are "solvent", insofar as they are endowed with purchasing power, and for those resources which are "marketable", insofar as they are capable of obtaining a satisfactory price. But there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied, and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish. It is also necessary to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources. Even prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to man because he is man, by reason of his lofty dignity. Inseparable from that required "something" is the possibility to survive and, at the same time, to make an active contribution to the common good of humanity.
The Pope clearly established a balance between not allowing fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied, and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish and the necessity to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources. I'm still waiting for our pastors to apply these words to our current situation and to assist us laypeople to enact a healthy, balanced public policy more in line with the whole of Catholic Social Teaching. My scorecard for them is an "F".

Our bishops, still convinced of the desirability of the welfare state, have unwittingly painted themselves into a corner. If they had opposed this attempt at socialism from the viewpoint of the very Catholic notion of subsidiarity, and had supported instead the initiative of a humanist free market as John Paul envisioned, their critique would have been a more honest, coherent, moral, and intellectual one. But by accepting the premise that government ought to grow to cover this human need, they became more accomplices than shapers of what Congress has wrought. Because they bought into the "big government" idea, just differing on how big and in which direction government ought to grow, we find ourselves in this mess.

I want to state for the record that I think that those who cannot, in the words of John Paull II, acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources should be protected and provided for. The Bible is clear about who they are: the widow, the orphan, the elderly, the infirm and yes, the alien. A partnership of public and private initiatives will always be needed to care for these biblical "protected classes." Although our bishops are in tune with the needs of those unable to learn, work, and compete, they say little or nothing about our duty towards those who are able: we need to create the conditions and opportunities for them to join "the circle of exchange." This bill doesn't do that and our bishops seem to be oblivious of that basic fact.

For all these reasons, in my lay opinion, and from my reading of Catholic Social Teaching, this "health care reform" about to befall us is all wrong. Our bishops have never challenged the underlying, flawed premises. Rather, they got entangled in it, and now we're all going to pay for a large, unwieldly system that is designed to fail in the long wrong anyway in order to justify later a larger, irresistible complete government takeover of the health care sector. Read my lips, when that happens, there wwill be little or no consideration given to conscience protections or the defense of the right to life in anyway.

I hope and pray that our bishops learn from this mistake and give us better guidance next time. Their has been a failure of imagination of vast proportions. Hear us, O Lord, for the time to come.