Stay alert on health care reform Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Mar. 04, 2010 -- 1:00 AM

Now that the health care summit convened by President Barack Obama is over, it seems that there will be tactical efforts used to pass a bill in Congress despite many concerns raised by lawmakers and citizens.

The U.S. Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders have urged all parties to commit themselves to health care reform that is affordable, accessible, and protects the life and dignity of every person.

editor's view by Mary C. Uhler

Call for genuine health care reform

In a February 24 letter to congressional leadership, the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) again asked for “genuine health care reform that will protect the life, dignity, consciences, and health of all.”

Similar messages came from the president of Catholic Charities USA and from a coalition of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish leaders, including many Catholics.

A Catholic News Service article said that the bishops’ letter reiterated many of the points made in earlier USCCB messages about health care reform. This included calling for a prohibition on federal funding of abortion, protection of conscience rights, and guarantees that immigrants will have access to the reformed health care system.

House and Senate versions vary

Those concerned about ethical health care reform need to stay on top of what’s happening in both the House and the Senate, as well as what President Obama has proposed.

The House and Senate versions of health care reform have significant differences. One of the most prominent differences is the role that government will play in subsidizing coverage of abortion on demand, noted Barbara Lyons of Wisconsin Right to Life.

The House version contains the Stupak/Pitts language (favored by National Right to Life, the USCCB, and other pro-life groups). This bill prohibits the subsidy of abortion on demand except in limited circumstances.

The Senate version contains much weaker language. It attempts to separate private funds from public funds and have the public believe that the government will not be subsidizing abortion coverage. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Mich), who crafted the House language, is not buying the Senate language and has told leadership in both houses of Congress that there will be no health care reform unless his language prevails.

Stupak reportedly has said that he has 10 to 12 Democrats who will vote against the final version if the bill doesn’t include his language. This number of votes is significant since the House bill squeaked through by only a five-vote margin, noted Lyons.

Basic moral criteria must be met

Although encouraging the administration and Congress to work in a bipartisan manner marked by political courage, vision, and leadership, the Catholic bishops also stressed that any final plan must “respect the consciences of providers, taxpayers, purchasers of insurance, and others, not violate them.” They said it should be “truly universal and not be denied to those in need because of their condition, age, where they come from, or when they arrive here.”

People in our country do need access to good, affordable health care. However, we should be conscious of how this care is provided and how we pay for it. Any new law must provide conscience protection for health care workers and institutions. We must be wary, too, of efforts to limit or ration health care for everyone from unborn babies to the disabled and elderly.

The Catholic bishops warn that “no legislation should be finalized until and unless these basic moral criteria are met.” I encourage everyone to stay alert about what is happening in the health care debate. Two helpful Web sites: the Catholic bishops ( or Wisconsin Right to Life (, where you can sign up for e-mailed health care alerts (