Catholic Leaders Urge Health Care Reform

As the head of the Catholic Health Association expressed hope that President Barack Obama’s meeting on health care, planned for Feb. 25, would “move health care reform closer to completion,” the leaders of a group of Catholic physicians called on Congress to scrap the current legislative proposals and start over.

“The American people are tired of partisan bickering and want lawmakers to find common ground toward creating a stronger, more equitable health care system,” said Carol Keehan, of the Daughters of Charity, who is president of the C.H.A. “The current window of opportunity is small, which is why we encourage summit participants and other key leaders to move from argument and misinformation to consensus and collaboration—now,” she said in a statement on Feb. 23. Other Catholic leaders joined Sister Keehan’s call for urgent action on health care. Morna Murray, president of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, joined leaders of other faith groups in a Feb. 23 letter calling on Congress to “complete this task now.”

“Human beings are suffering as a result of skyrocketing health care costs, ever-escalating premiums, and draconian choices between paying the rent and taking a sick child to the doctor. This is not hyperbole or rhetoric. This is the shameful reality today for millions of American families, senior citizens and children.”

But the president and executive director of the Catholic Medical Association said in an open letter to President Obama and members of Congress on Feb. 23 that “the most responsible course of action” at this time would be “to pause, reflect and then begin the legislative process anew, working in a more deliberate and bipartisan manner.”

“It is more important that health care reform be done right than to finish the legislative process by a date certain,” said Leonard P. Rybak, M.D., president, and John F. Brehany, executive director of the association of U.S. Catholic physicians.

The summit meeting scheduled for Feb. 25 is intended to bring together key members of Congress from both parties and government officials to seek a bipartisan resolution on health care. The president unveiled an 11-page proposal on Feb. 22 that combined some elements of the House and Senate reform measures but was silent on two issues of concern to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: continuation of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal money to fund abortion and access to health care for U.S. immigrants. The White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, said the proposal was an “opening bid” for the health care meeting and that the language on abortion in the Senate bill was what the White House would be using. The U.S. bishops have already dismissed the Senate language on abortion as deficient.

A poll released on Feb. 23 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found the nation evenly split on current health reform legislation, with 43 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed. Asked what they think Congress should do now about health reform, 32 percent said lawmakers should “move soon to pass the comprehensive legislation” already passed by the House and Senate; 22 percent said they should stop working on it now and take it up later this year; 20 percent said they should “pass a few provisions where there is broad agreement”; and 19 percent said they should stop working on health care reform this year.

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