How Not to “Reform” Health Care

The debate over health care reform is starting to heat up, with Congress preparing three separate bills and the President pressing for passage of a plan before the summer is out. Even though the details are still emerging, we can certainly discern a few valuable points about how one should and should not do health care reform.

The Catholic bishops of the United States have been in favor of some kind of universal health insurance plan for decades, and both they and the Catholic hospitals have been very active in advocating for structural improvements in the health system. Among the goals they’ve been pressing for are: 1) a truly universal health policy that offers access for all, especially the poor; 2) respect for all human life from conception to natural death; 3) preserving freedom of conscience and freedom for individuals and families to make their health care decisions; and 4) keeping costs at a reasonable and equitable level.

Those are serious goals, and there are a variety of possible ways to accomplish them. Ideally, they would be the framework for a serious national debate about the pragmatic and moral aspect of any health care reform plan. The various people affected — institutions and individuals — would all have a part to plan in that discussion.

That’s how it should work if the world made sense. Meanwhile, there’s the way that it seems to be playing out in Washington.

First of all, forget about the serious national discussion. Primarily for political reasons, the President has really put on the jets for this debate, and is insisting that a bill must be passed in the next few weeks. In fact, he seems to be so impatient that he has been quoted as saying “The time for talking is over.” No, actually, the time for thinking and talking has just begun. The stakes are too high for us to rush into something this significant.

Most important, the moral aspects of health care reform seem to be getting left out. There are very grave concerns about two aspects of “reform” in particular: whether abortions will be paid for by taxpayer dollars or included as a mandatory feature of health insurance, and whether the right to conscience of health care professionals and institutions will be respected.

The bills before Congress do not adequately address either of these concerns. Definitions are unclear, and too much discretion is left to bureaucrats to decide what medical procedures would be covered, and to what extent conscience rights will be respected (or not).

One thing is clear — the Administration fully intends to cover abortion in the final health care “reform” package. The President has been saying so since 2007, when he said that “In my mind reproductive care is essential care. It is basic care, and so it is at the center, the heart of the plan that I propose.” He has never backed away from that position. In fact, just the other day, the White House’s spokesman went on TV and coyly admitted that they won’t rule out coverage of abortion in the final plan.

Promoting the culture of death is precisely the wrong way to go about “reforming” our health care system.

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