In the midst of the current disagreement between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Conference of Catholic Bishops, we should not lose sight of the fact that Catholic Social Teaching upholds the principle of universal coverage for health care. Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed this recently writing: "Justice requires guaranteed access to health care. The provision of minimum levels of medical attention to all is accepted as a fundamental human right." This affirmation follows from all religious belief that honors the sanctity of life.
In almost all developed countries medical coverage is provided through the government. However, in the United States, there is such a pervasive hostility toward government by a vociferous and politically active segment of our population, that health care advocates were not even able to achieve a "public option." This leaves private insurers as the only possibility for those who work in the private sector and do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. This system works satisfactorily for the majority, but an unregulated insurance industry can declare individuals with serious needs to be uninsurable.
In the present conflict, which endangers universal coverage, reasonable people can work out a win-win solution without either side conceding their fundamental principles. But the problem becomes less solvable when politicians and pundits, with a thirst for high drama, turn the disagreement into a cosmic battle between God and Satan. To make it worse, opportunistic politicians on both sides slander their opponents, one side accusing the administration of "waging war against the Church," the other side claiming that conservative are "waging war against women."
The Bishops' Conference recently sent out a letter supporting a Congressional Act that goes beyond the Bishops' concerns over contraception, and seeks to defend the civil liberties of all. However, the letter says nothing about defending the right of all people to have access to health care. It would be a tragic irony if the political action of the Bishops' Conference led to the gutting or repeal of Affordable Health Care, thereby throwing many Americans back into the recent nightmare of being unable to insure their families. This would inevitably lead to the financial ruin of families along with tens of thousands of premature deaths from treatable diseases.
We, the Catholic People, constitute the Catholic Church. We believe that God calls us to be a compassionate people. Unfortunate, this aspect of our Faith does not always come across in the political statements of the Bishops' Conference. I think that most Catholics, like all people of good will, do not want to see any of our fellow citizens facing the ever-present threat of illness without the possibility of acquiring health insurance.
Richard P. Mullins