The great health care reform debate of 2009

Sausage anyone? The old adage about the similarities between witnessing the production of sausage and watching the creation of new laws applies in force to the great health care reform debate of 2009.

Judging from comments this author has received, many Catholics in particular are confused. What is Congress up to? What does our faith have to say about health care reform? Do the bishops have a take on what should and should not be done?

Compounding the trouble is the complexity of the topic, involving questions in medicine, economics, insurance, federal and state relations, the roles of government and the private sector, and careful moral analysis.

Bring your eggs and ketchup--an overview is now going to be served.

With respect to what is going on in Congress, the first thing to understand is that President Barack Obama, whose election spurred the great health care debate, has not produced specific reform legislation.

Nothing can be voted on in Congress unless there is a bill proposing a new law. When the president referred to “my plan” in his address to Congress earlier in September, there was no specific legislative proposal with his name on it spelling out his plan in black and white.

By not reducing his promises to a bill, the president has avoided making specific commitments to actual language that can be examined, analyzed and evaluated. He has made some good promises, such as indicating support for restrictions on abortion subsidies and for conscience protection. These promises need to be reduced to concrete legislative language and put in any of the bills working their way through Congress before the promises can be adequately assessed.

The second thing to understand is that the health care reform bills already filed will continue to change in content as the process moves forward. Three particular bills have moved to the top of the congressional calendar.

In the House there is H.R. 3200, entitled “America’s Affordable Choices Act of 2009” (the “H.R” stands for House Resolution). This bill was approved by three different committees and it is ready to come to the floor of the House for debate in that chamber.

There are two prominent Senate bills, one ready for a floor vote and the other still in committee. Senator Tom Harkin’s bill, S. 1679, entitled “Affordable Health Choices Act,” was approved in July by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Senator Max Baucus’s bill, “America’s Healthy Future Act,” just introduced at the time of this writing, was not yet given a bill number and was still in the Senate Finance Committee where over 500 amendments to the bill were filed for committee consideration.

Any bill that reaches the Senate and House floor after amendments are added in committee can be amended yet again during floor debate. If there are any differences between the versions of a bill passed by both chambers, then even more amendments can be made by a conference committee appointed to iron out the differences. A bill that reaches the president’s desk can look very different from the bill’s original version as a result of these multiple stages of debate and accompanying votes.

This means that the specific bills proposing reform are shifting, changing targets. It is often difficult to urge specific grassroots action in the face of the rapid developments.

What does our faith have to contribute to this debate? Church teaching on health care access supplies certain basic principles. Here’s my summary.

First, since life and health are intertwined, and life is a fundamental right, then access to health care is itself a fundamental right.

Second, since the right to life is universal, access to care should be universal. All persons deserve to qualify for essential health services. This includes the unborn, older persons, individuals with disabilities and both documented and undocumented immigrants.

Third, some procedures offered under the guise of being “essential” are harmful to life and should not be included in any mandated package of “basic” health care coverage. Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize abortion and other objectionable procedures. Conscientious freedom should be protected.

Fourth, health care is not an unlimited resource and prudential choices will have to be made about how best to accommodate access for everyone under principles of good stewardship. Yet cost control should not use forms of rationing that violate human dignity.

Fifth, since economy of scale (distributing the total burden of paying for care across a large population) is an important means for keeping the costs of health care affordable for individuals, there is a vital role for government, and even more so for the national government, in health care financing.

This vital role, however, does not justify “top-down” dictates that violate the principle of subsidiarity. This doctrine teaches that the power to make decisions should not be moved upstairs to more bureaucratic levels absent an absolute necessity. Subsidiarity respects the role of private initiative and faith-based outreach.

What actions have the U.S. Bishops, through their national office at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), been taking? Key bishops and other USCCB representatives have provided Congress with their analysis of bills at different stages, calling for changes when specific provisions would violate the common good.

Copies of these communications, along with an excellent Q and A and other educational materials, including alerts and updates, are available online at http://www.usccb.org/healthcare/.

Some participants in the health care debate argue against all reform. That is not the Church’s position. The bishops’ overall message is: healthcare reform, yes; violations of human dignity, no.

Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Policy and Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.

World
Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

World
Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

World
Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

World
Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Nation
Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Nation
Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

World
Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Nation
Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Nation
Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Nation
Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Nation
Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Nation
Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

World
Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

World
Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

World
Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Nation
Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

World
Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Nation
Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

World
Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

World
What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

World
Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...

Nation
Addicts and their loved ones talk about life with opioid addiction

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- It was a Saturday night, and Billy was eating pizza and watching a sporting event in the basement bedroom of his residence, a ...

Nation
Signers of letter hope Vatican meeting will bring needed steps on crisis

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Signers of an open letter from Catholic women to Pope Francis urging "truth" and "transparency" on the growing sex abuse crisis expressed ...

Local
Community 'overwhelmed and shell-shocked' after gas explosions, says pastor

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

World
Down to earth: Vatican brings together world's meteorite curators

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Rocks, mineral debris and even dust from space are kept in special collections, museums and laboratories all over the ...

World
Algerian martyrs to be beatified in Algeria Dec. 8

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The beatification of 19 martyrs of Algeria, including the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine, will be celebrated Dec. 8 in Oran, ...

Nation
'Anything but a picnic' - Cardinal Dolan on the Church's summer of scandal

New York City, N.Y., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Cardinal Timothy Dolan has spoken about how the extended sexual abuse scandals facing the Church have taken a ...

Local
Restoring and reimagining: Transformation at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross

BOSTON -- Considered by many to be the heart of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the largest Catholic church in New England, ...

Local
Archdiocese says Cardinal O'Malley will personally review all abuse letters

BRAINTREE (CAN) -- The Archdiocese of Boston has announced changes to the way it will process and respond to letters addressed to Cardinal Séan P. ...

Local
CM receives $2.5M grant from Yawkey Foundations

West Roxbury -- Catholic Memorial, a college-preparatory school for boys in grades 7 to 12, announced Sept. 5 that they have received a $2.5 million grant ...

Local
Father Christian Ohazulume removed from ministry

BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocese announced on Sept. 11 that it had removed a priest from ministry after receiving an allegation that he sexually abused a ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

This week I am in transit to Rome in anticipation of the next meeting of the C9 Council of Cardinals. So, I have asked Vivian Soper to share some reflections ...

Nation
Kavanaugh's birth control comments spur controversy -- What did he say?

Washington D.C. (CNA) -- Opponents of Judge Brett Kavanaugh have suggested that a reference to birth control pills as "abortion-inducing drugs" during ...

Nation
Missouri to enforce abortion regulations in wake of appeals court ruling

Jefferson City, Mo. (CNA) -- Missouri's health department announced Monday that it will immediately being enforcing state laws regulating abortion clinics ...