A Bishop's Concern About the Senate's Healthcare Proposal

June 24, 2017

Last month the question of whether the healthcare of citizens is a proper concern of government under Catholic social doctrine was explored in these pages. [1] As it turns out, it’s not even a close question. Pertinent authority answers decidedly in the affirmative.

The Catechism tells us that the health of the citizenry “requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity,” specifically mentioning healthcare (CCC, Sec. 2288) [2], and 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….” (CCC, Sec. 2221). [3] Most recently, Pope Francis has said in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, that it is “vital” that governmental and financial leaders work to ensure that “all citizens” have healthcare, along with dignified employment and education. (Sec. 205) [4]

How well does the healthcare bill that was just rolled out in the Senate comply with that requirement? Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has weighed in with some remarks, preliminary to more detailed comments to follow. And he has pulled no punches, pointing out that it “is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.” [5] His concern is that the proposed legislation contains “a ‘per-capita cap’ on Medicaid funding, and then connects yearly increases to formulas that would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported.” Indeed, as reported in The New York Times,  

“The Senate bill would also cap overall federal spending on Medicaid: States would receive a per-beneficiary allotment of money. The federal payments would grow more slowly than under the House bill starting in 2025. Alternatively, states could receive an annual lump sum of federal money for Medicaid in the form of a block grant.” [6]  

Because of these provisions, state officials and health policy experts have predicted that many people will be dropped from Medicaid because states will “not fill the fiscal hole left by the loss of federal money.” The harm threatened to “low-income families and struggling communities” by the proposed legislation is evident.

Bishop Dewane, however, points out something positive in the proposed legislation. In that it recognizes “that abortion is not health care by attempting to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or plans that cover it.” The bishop points out that “this would correct a flaw in the Affordable Care Act by fully applying the longstanding and widely-supported Hyde amendment protections.”

Once again we find that the program of neither of the major political parties in the United States can be given full-throated endorsement from the standpoint of Catholic social teaching. For the Republicans, reducing federal government assistance for low-income medical care and endangering the lives of the poor is an important goal. For the Democrats, involving the government in the pre-natal butchery euphemistically called “abortion” is critically important. Both of them stand far apart from Catholic social teaching, which holds that every human person, poor or unborn, is an end in himself.

There is no Catholic political party in the United States, and Catholics would do well to remember that.

Jack Quirk