Catholic Social Teaching and the Government's Role in Healthcare

May 25, 2017

“The Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) have completed an estimate of the direct spending and revenue effects of H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act of 2017, as passed by the House of Representatives.” [1] As part of their analysis the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the JCT have considered the likely effects of the Act on health insurance coverage.

The “CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under H.R. 1628 than under current law. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected under current law would reach 19 million in 2020 and 23 million in 2026. In 2026, an estimated 51 million people under age 65 would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law. Under the legislation, a few million of those people would use tax credits to purchase policies that would not cover major medical risks.”

Meanwhile, President Trump has proposed a federal budget that will slash $800 billion from Medicaid over the next decade. [2]

There has been some considerable discussion in these pages recently about universal, single-payer health coverage. [3] [4] It has been touted by your humble servant as a way to get medical coverage for all in a manner that would be consistent with Catholic social teaching, particularly as against the charge that it would violate the principle of subsidiarity. But here I would like to address the broader question of whether the healthcare of citizens is a proper concern of government at all under Catholic social doctrine.

The answer, as it turns out, is quite clearly in the affirmative, which might be surprising given that there are so many who would claim that the opposite is true. We need look no further than the Catechism, where we read that concern “for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.” (CCC, Sec. 2288) [5] We also read that the “political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially…in keeping with the country's institutions, the right to medical care, assistance for the aged, and family benefits….” (CCC, Sec. 221) [6] And Pope Francis reminded us not too long ago in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that it “is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.” (Sec. 205) [7]

So, according to Catholic social teaching, it is a governmental and societal responsibility that every citizen have access to necessary healthcare. We can dispute about what the best way of accomplishing that would be. But, if we are to claim adherence to Catholic teaching, we may not ignore the requirement. And that means that we must be sincere about coming up with solutions that will actually work.

As the CBO report shows, the American Health Care Act of 2017 cannot be said to be a sincere attempt to come up with a way to provide every American citizen with access to healthcare. Quite the opposite is true. And President Trump’s budget proposal as it pertains to Medicaid is a sincere attempt to do exactly the opposite of what Catholic social teaching requires in this regard, since it seeks to remove access to healthcare from some of America’s most vulnerable citizens.

Let us not be misled on this issue.

Jack Quirk