The only thing certain about proposals for health-care reform is that there are a lot of them.
Over the weekend, officials in President Barack Obama’s administration added another reform idea, signaling that they might be willing to consider different reform that includes insurance cooperatives rather than the public-insurance plan on which the administration has thus far insisted.
While the administration now appears to be more willing to compromise, some Catholics insist that coverage must be universal.
That was one message a grassroots group organized by Interfaith Action delivered to members of Congress, who are spending their August summer recess in their home districts. The Interfaith Action group demonstrated at the Federal Building in Rochester Aug. 11 as part of a nationwide movement by the PICO National Network — a group of interfaith community organizers — to unify calls for national health-care reform.
Some Interfaith Action representatives called for support of HR 3200, the congressional Democratic majority’s health-care reform bill, which also is called “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009.” Among other provisions, this bill would set up a government-run health-insurance plan that would compete with private insurance, mandate that all Americans have health insurance, and fund the public plan through a tax on the wealthiest Americans and through a fee for employers that do not offer affordable health insurance.
Though plans for health-care reform may be in flux in Washington, a diocesan representative said the church’s priorities on such reform are not.
“The Catholic Church hasn’t supported any specific bill, but there is strong support for the need for reform,” said Marvin Mich, who attended the Aug. 11 demonstration as a diocesan representative and as director of social policy and research for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center. Mich also is president of the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, an ecumenical organization that also sent its executive and spiritual director, Marie Gibson, to the demonstration.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for universal health-insurance coverage with a special emphasis on protecting the poor and vulnerable. The bishops have said proposals must not expand abortion funding or mandate abortion coverage; should preserve existing conscience rights of health-care providers and institutions; and should expand eligibility for public programs to all low-income families and vulnerable people, including legal immigrants.
Mich noted that welfare-reform legislation passed in 1996 excluded legal immigrants from Medicaid benefits for the first five years they are in the United States. About two dozen states, including New York, have since used state funds to cover Medicaid benefits for newly arrived legal immigrants. Mich also pointed out that the cost of caring for the uninsured in emergency rooms results in higher insurance premiums for all who have insurance.
The USCCB Web site offers extensive materials discussing the details of health care-reform proposals. The site also includes an Aug. 11 letter from Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the USCCB committee on Pro-Life Activities to the U.S. House of Representatives, noting that HR 3200 might give administration officials the power to make unlimited abortion a mandated benefit in the public health insurance plan.
The cardinal pointed out that some federal funds authorized and appropriated by the legislation may not be subject to longstanding bans against federal funding for abortion and health-benefit packages that include abortion. One of the most far-reaching bans is the Hyde Amendment, which is passed as a rider to the annual U.S. Labor/Health and Human Services/Education appropriations bill and which blocks federal funding of abortion in all major health programs, except for cases in which the mother’s life is endangered or in cases of rape or incest.
Cardinal Rigali noted that federal funds for HR 3200 would not pass through the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill, meaning they would not be covered by the Hyde Amendment. Those who purchase public insurance also would be required to pay to fund abortions, he said.
“Federal funds will subsidize the public plan, as well as private health plans that include abortion on demand; but anyone who purchases these plans is required to pay a premium out of his or her own pocket (specified in the Act to be at least $1.00 a month) to cover all abortions beyond those eligible for federal funds under the current Hyde amendment,” Cardinal Rigali said.
HR 3200 may be the best-known proposal, but it is not the only reform bill circulating. On the same day as the Interfaith Action demonstration, for example, U.S. Representative Chris Lee (R-Clarence) went to the University of Rochester Medical Center to promote HR 2615, also known as the Medical Rights and Reform Act This proposal advocates cost-savings through such initiatives as medical-malpractice reform, preventive medicine, tax incentives, greater technology and health savings accounts.
“It is important that health care legislation actually reforms America’s health care system to lower costs, expand access, and improve quality — not simply add huge new costs onto the backs of current and future generations,” Lee said in a message posted on his Web site.
These bills are just a few of the many proposals circulating. Such local groups as the Rochester Interfaith Health Care Coalition have alternately called for a government-run single-payer system to ensure universal health-care coverage. Interfaith Action is calling for legislative proposals that include premium discounts based on a family’s income, said Our Lady of Mercy parishioner Pat Amato, who helped organized the Aug. 11 demonstration on behalf of Interfaith Action.
“Our mantra we have is, ‘If it’s not affordable, it’s not reform,'” Amato said.
Although they may have varied opinions on health-care reform, Mich noted that Catholics are called by both Scripture and social-justice teaching to participate in the debate. Healing the sick was one of Jesus’ primary ministries, he noted.
“From our perspective, (health care) is seen as a basic right, and it affects the strength of families and the viability of families,” Mich said. “It’s really an issue of human dignity if you can’t protect the health of your family.”