Health Care Hoopla

It’s been hard to miss the current debates over President Obama’s health care reform. This hot button issue has liberals and conservatives going head-to-head and dominating the summer news cycle.  But all political disputes aside, the bill raises questions about the relationship between religion and health care and all kinds of religious groups are scrambling to have their voices heard including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, faith-based mutual insurers, and the Sikh Council on Religion and Education.

Some of you might have caught wind of the controversy in Massachusetts earlier this spring over a joint venture between a Catholic hospital system, Caritas Christi Health Care network, and the nonreligious health organization, Centene Corp, under the state’s universal health care program. While Catholic hospitals do not perform abortions, the partnership would have required Caritas to refer patients interested in abortions to outside clinics, ultimately leading Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley to call off the Catholic hospital’s plans. A very similar debate is now swirling around President Obama’s national health care bill because some of the proposed plans could require confidential family planning services such as abortion. Catholic hospitals are clearly torn between their commitment to providing care to the poor (one in eight hospitals in the United States is affiliated with the Catholic Church) and condemning elective abortion and contraception.  The U.S. Conference of Bishops has indicated the changes that it would like to see made in the bill but some feel that the media has largely ignored their voice. As the debate continues, all Catholics and especially Catholic health care providers will continue to wrestle with these issues.

Catholics aren’t the only religious group struggling with the new bill.  Faith-based mutual insurers are worried that health care reform might leave them out in the cold.  These non-profit insurers act as a clearinghouse for uninsured individuals who have medical expenses and those who desire to share the burden of those medical expenses.  They hope that the new health care legislation will take a cue from the Massachusetts model that currently “permits an exemption for ‘any health arrangement provided by established religious organizations comprised of individuals with sincerely held beliefs.”’ Although it is an unorthodox way to pay medical expenses, an estimated 100,000 members have chosen to participate in faith-based health insurance plans. However, critics continue to point out that there is no guaranteed coverage and cite it as evidence that health care reform needs to happen.   

On a final note, Oliver Thomas, a minister, lawyer and author of 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can’t Because He Needs the Job), offers his opinion whether or not God would back universal health care.  

It’s interesting to note yet another way that religion and health care are interconnected – even within such a complex issue as reforming the U.S. health care system.

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4 Responses to “Health Care Hoopla”

  1. Jackie Durkee Says:

    I can see as a Christian and a Catholic that this bill will cause some problems for Christians and for Catholic hospitals. I’m reading the bill and while it does not explicitedly talk about abortion there are many loose ends. It especially use the phrase, “other healthcare providers” a lot. I know people are making their voices hear but I wish they would do it more respectfully without the shouting. I’m afraid that people aren’t going to really listen to someone shouting at them. It needs to be intelligent conversation.
    Jackie Durkee

  2. Health care -- how do we move forward Says:

    There has been a great deal of talk in the media — print, radio, tv — just about everywhere about the behavior and tactics being employed by various organizations. There have been comments about well behaved and polite citizenry attending meetings to voice their opinions. There have been stories of those who haven’t conducted themselves well. I suspect these stories will go on throughout the month of August and perhaps beyond. For one, I hope they do go on well beyond.

    I think both sides have taken essentially the same tactics. Labeling each other with invectives, giving their supporters a ‘playbook’, and attempting to use the media to their advantage. All of this is okay. It is okay because in America we have the right to freedom of speech, assembly and freedom of the press. These are rights that thousands have given their lives to protect. The debate on health care which consumes nearly a fifth of the national economy and involves everyone is something that we should openly debate and understand the intended and unintended consequences of before we change an entire system.

    It is important to provide better access, bend the cost curve so that health care is affordable (and not just through shifting costs by taxing) as well as sustainable, and improving the quality of the care delivered.

    We are a country that leads the world in health care innovation. We have to zealously protect that aspect. No other country in the world is positioned to take our place if we take our eye off this important work.

    But above all democracy demands that citizens get involved and voice their opinions.

  3. Rachel, Workplace/Healthcare Says:

    Jackie, the current health care debate definitely resonates with Catholics, as reform has implications for Catholic hospitals and their religion-specific policies and practices. And I agree – it’s important to remember to keep an air of respectful civility, as the debate will only intensify over the summer recess.

    Health care — how do we move forward, you make a good point; given the fact that the US health care sector is so large, the issue of reform is one of the few that affects all Americans – everyone needs health care. We also hope to see more Americans add their voices (in a respectful way) to the process.

  4. Whole-Patient Care « Moving Beyond Differences Says:

    […] February 16, 2010 — Rachel, Workplace/Healthcare Several months ago, I blogged about the ongoing debates surrounding health care reform and the questions President Obama’s bill raised about the relationship between religion and […]


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