President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, survived scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court with the unexpected support of Chief Justice John Roberts in an opinion that preserved health care reform and may help restore public faith in the highest court in the land. Health care reform in the United States can now move forward according to its pre-established timeline of expanded services and coverage.
Parts of the reform package already implemented allowed millions of people who had been denied health care because of pre-existing conditions to acquire health insurance. It has also extended coverage to more than three million young people under their parents’ plans during a period after college when most went without the protection of health insurance. By eliminating lifetime limits on coverage, the Affordable Care Act has already protected families burdened by accident or disease from ruinous health care expenses. Now the law will extend Medicaid to millions more uninsured people and establish insurance plan exchanges, an essentially free-market fix.
Difficult issues remain. The reform creates the possibility that federal money may be used for abortion procedures. Reform has also occasioned an unwarranted intrusion into religious institutional identity. As the law takes effect, modifications are needed to address these concerns.More Than PR
It has never been easy to publish a diocesan newspaper. Serving both the local church and the Catholic public often leads to moments of tension. Catholic editors must learn to work fruitfully with their diocesan bishop, then renegotiate that relationship every time a new bishop is named to lead the diocese. In too many cases, local Catholic papers have become mere public relations vehicles for their bishops, with the result that their readership has dwindled.
In June, two reputable diocesan newspapers received troubling news. The Archdiocese of Minneapolis withdrew recognition from the union that represented the journalists at the award-winning Catholic Spirit; a reduced staff will be moved to the communication office. In Philadelphia the archdiocese announced that The Catholic Standard and Times would be shuttered, after 117 years of publication, and replaced by a Web site. The closing was part of a diocese-wide budget reduction plan. Some Catholics may not mourn the decline of local papers, but they should. At their best, Catholic papers report news that Catholics would not find anywhere else. They also serve as an essential catechetical tool and help connect Catholics with their fellow believers in the diocese and across the world.
It may be necessary for some print papers to cease publication, but dioceses should seek to provide responsible alternatives online. Too many Web sites that focus on the church are biased and uncharitable. The most respected Catholic newspapers follow standard journalistic practices. The same standards should apply online. As Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told attendees at the Catholic Media Conference in June: “The Catholic press has to live up to the same professional and ethical standards as the press in general: the search for truth, fairness in reporting, respect for human dignity.”‘Free-Market’ Prisons
In prison for assaulting his girlfriend, David Goodell was transferred to a halfway house in Newark; but he soon walked out, found another girlfriend and killed her. Derek West Harris, a friendly barber guilty of $700 in unpaid parking tickets, was sent to Newark’s 900-bed Delaney Hall, a rehabilitation house for minor offenders. On his third day there three gang members killed him over three dollars.
These institutions in New Jersey are not state prisons but part of a national network of private prisons operating under the name Community Education Centers. According to a 10-month investigation by The New York Times, they are ungovernable failures in which drugs, murder and chaos rule. Their staffs, which include no corrections officers, are untrained and incompetent. At least 5,100 inmates have escaped since 2005—mostly by not returning from work-release. Eighty-five are still at large. Since Chris Christie became governor of New Jersey, at least 1,300 inmates have escaped in 29 months. In 2011 no one escaped from the state prisons.
Private-enterprise prisons are to the American penal system what Blackwater was to Iraq. The government passes off its solemn responsibilities for security and policing to companies that are responsible primarily to their stockholders. This is not free-market competition; it is living off government contracts in a system where state prisons rent empty beds in private prisons and transfer violent criminals into halfway-house dormitories. Politicians’ real moral and legal obligation should be to keep the prisons in line. Instead, Governor Christie lobbied for Community Education in 2001 and put the son-in-law of the company’s chief executive on his office staff in 2010.