Posts Tagged ‘Kathy Gallagher’

Where We are on Health Care Reform

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Now that the special election has been held in Massachusetts to fill the vacant United States Senate seat, the Democrats in the Senate have lost their filibuster-proof majority, and new political winds are blowing.  So, it’s worth considering where we are in the health reform debate.

My friend Kathy Gallagher from the New York State Catholic Conference suggested that the best way to illustrate the status and fate of the bills currently before Congress is this — take the largest stack of paper in your house, go over to the window, open it up and throw all the papers out.

That may be a bit dramatic, but there’s no doubt that the entire political dynamic has changed, and there is clearly a groundswell of opposition to increased government spending and activism.  As a result, the Senate health reform bill, which has been sent to the House for consideration, is unlikely to pass without major changes.  Given the new make-up of the Senate, no bill will pass that body again without significant concessions to the Republicans and moderate Democrats.  Moderate members of Congress, particularly the Democrats, are re-calculating their political futures, and are unlikely to support dramatic expansions of government activity or increases in taxes.

This new situation also has tremendous significance for pro-lifers.  It now appears much less likely that there will be an expansion of federal abortion funding under the guise of health care reform.

In short, it seems likely that the current bills have reached their expiration dates, and the President and the Congressional leadership will have to look to new ideas to break the deadlock and accomplish any kind of health care reform.

I think that Catholic social teaching provides a possible solution, particularly the principle of subsidiarity.  This requires that, in developing social policies, we must defer to the most local level that can handle the problem adequately. So, the primary responsibility for virtually all issues falls on individuals and families. We must respect their freedom to make decisions about their welfare, trust that in most cases they will act rationally, while at the same time enacting social policies that help them make decisions and offer assistance when they are unable to accomplish their goals.

Now, there are many possible policy solutions that would satisfy the principle of subsidiarity.  But one that would also accomplish the major goals of health reform (restraining costs, allocating costs fairly across the population, increasing consumer choice, attaining universal coverage) could include some of the following:

  • Changing the tax code to permit people to de-link their health insurance from their job.   This would give people the freedom to take their health insurance wherever they go, instead of being locked into a plan chosen by their employer of the moment (and forever afraid of losing their insurance if they change or lose their jobs).
  • Permitting health insurance companies to carry on business across state lines, subject, of course, to reasonable regulations to ensure fair practices.  This would allow more options for individuals and families to shop around to control their costs and their coverage.
  • Creating health care “exchanges” for consumers, which offer choices among a number of health plans.  This is like the system enjoyed by employees of the federal government, and it would  increase the ability of families to select the kind of coverage that is best for them, as opposed to being required to accept a “one-size-fits-all” approach.  It’s also more likely to respect individual rights to conscience, for instance by allowing people to choose plans that do not cover offensive things like abortion.
  • Creating a catastrophic insurance plan that would automatically cover everyone.  This would be especially attractive for those who do not wish to carry ordinary health insurance but who want to be protected against major risks.
  • Guaranteeing access for all, including immigrants who wish to buy insurance, and those with pre-existing health conditions.  This could even involve increasing the eligibility levels for public plans (e.g., Medicaid or Family Health Plus), so that more low-income families would have access to coverage.
  • Providing subsidies (such as tax credits or vouchers) to help low-income people purchase insurance, either from a private company or a public plan (e.g., Medicare, Child Health Plus, Medicaid, etc.).
  • The President and Congress could pass these initiatives in a very simple piece of legislation that would, in my opinion, enjoy wide bi-partisan support.  It wouldn’t significantly expand the role of government in the economy, and wouldn’t dramatically increase deficits or taxes.   It also wouldn’t require all Americans to pay for abortions, or leave them in fear of government health care rationing.

    Elections have consequences.  The Massachusetts election result is saying something very clear — it’s time to start thinking of new solutions.