Current Comment

A Middle-Class Cut

Unlike Medicare, which covers Americans age 65 and over, Medicaid was established to serve the poorest Americans, particularly low-income mothers and children. It does this, but few people realize that the program also serves many seniors. Currently seven out of ten nursing home residents are on Medicaid. Some of these persons have long been indigent. But many others lived middle-class lives for decades until they outlived their pensions, savings and home equity and signed over to the federal government their remaining assets so that Medicaid would pay for their nursing home care in certified facilities. This care is expensive, more than $200 a day by a 2009 estimate. One year of care costs more than most Americans earn in a year of full-time employment.

The restructuring of Medicaid espoused by Representative Paul D. Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin), chairman of the House Budget Committee, would turn Medicaid into a block grant program administered by the states. Payments would increase only at the rate of inflation, not at the much faster rate of increasing health care costs. As a result, many experts think the states would soon have to downsize both the program and its benefits. Any cutback of services would harm not only mothers and children but also the disabled and the elderly, who currently benefit from nearly two-thirds of all Medicaid spending. Even though Mr. Ryan’s proposal for Medicaid would reduce federal outlays, it would merely hand over the responsibility for providing essential services to the states—and to the very Americans who cannot afford the bill. It would be better to find other ways to stretch the federal Medicaid dollar than by cutting senior services like nursing home care.


A Graduation Debate

A university commencement, with its honorary degrees and speakers, is the last chance to teach the graduates what the past four years were all about. Often schools pass up that chance by inviting a celebrity to give the graduates the feeling they had met someone famous.

Two years ago conservative Catholics and bishops protested when Notre Dame gave President Barack Obama an honorary degree, because Mr. Obama, a Protestant, did not accept Catholic Church teaching on abortion. Last month 78 professors from various Catholic universities wrote to Representative John A. Boehner, a Catholic graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, who was scheduled to give the commencement address at The Catholic University of America. Their purpose was not to disinvite him but to point out to him that this Republican-supported budget, which cuts Medicare and grants tax cuts to the rich, was “at variance from one of the Church’s ancient moral teachings...that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor.”

Another letter from 83 students to the university’s president, John Garvey, said Mr. Boehner was an inappropriate choice because he had championed cuts in food for the poor and homeless. Did the administration “really believe” this was “an example of Catholic leadership”?

In his talk Mr. Boehner dwelt on how his parents taught him to “do the right thing for the right reason” and, dabbing at his tears, recounted that his high school football coach had called when he became House speaker to say, “You can do it.” He endorsed “humility, patience and faith.” President Garvey told the press, “He represents the church well.”

Cruel Beauty

Every year cosmetics companies in the United States kill millions of animals while testing their products. According to statistics from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, almost a million feel excruciating pain during these experiments.

Among the wretched examples of inhumane practices is the injection of caustic substances into the eyes of living rabbits (to test for levels of skin irritation) while they squirm and scream until they break their necks or backs.

The Food and Drug Administration does not require testing on animals. The European Union banned animal testing in 2009. There are alternatives. Santosh Krinsky, chief executive officer of Beauty Without Cruelty, points to less expensive and more reliable tests, based on computer models that use, for example, “cell and skin tissue cultures and corneas from eye banks.”

American consumers must step up the pressure and boycott companies that test on animals. As Christians we have a responsibility to be stewards of creation. An online listing of companies that test on animals extends beyond cosmetics to personal care, household and other items as well. It is shockingly long, and the brand names are surprisingly familiar—including Max Factor, Bain de Soleil, Clairol, L’Oréal, Pine-Sol, Scope, Old Spice and Woolite. Among the hundreds of companies to be applauded (and supported) for not testing on animals are Avon, The Body Shop and Mary Kay Cosmetics.

The cost of human beauty should not include product testing that inflicts unspeakable cruelty on animals.

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C Walter Mattingly
7 years 7 months ago

Both parties are well aware that the American public wants its leaders to address the dangerous deficit and to leave Medicare as it is. Both parties are also aware that these are mutually exclusive goals, that Medicare must be restructured/cut and the process started soon. One party has chosen to address the issue; the other has chosen to stand back, ignore the unpopularity of any such changes to Medicare, and demagogue the issue for political gain, in effect fiddling as Rome burns. Really nothing new or especially noteworthy about that, except that such postponing of an adult response to this enormous deficit, we are warned by economists of all stripes, could lead to a sudden financial collapse for the nation at any time. 
There is no doubt that the above headline, middle class cut (or cuts period), is going to occur in the future; democrats seem to want to delay addressing that future, republicans, addressing it now. Yet what America ignores is the potential ability of the citizen to better understand his needs and make better choices in his own interests than the government at less cost to the taxpayers. For example, right now that middle-class citizen approaching retirement may look at the prospect of long-term care and conclude not to worry about it, because in the last enfeebled years of his life, should he need such care, he knows the government will pick up the tab. So he will take cruises, etc because Uncle Sam has his back. If however he realizes that he will receive monies for health care which he can count on but that he can't count on the government to bail him out, he is incentivized to buy an affordable long-term care policy in say his mid50's, one which he is comfortable with. Now it is his money involved, not Uncle Sam's. It's not unlike school vouchers for inner-city children. President Obama has done all he can to prevent them, but his own supporters, those very inner-city residents, are forcing their acceptance and are now being supported by influential democrats along with republicans.
America perceptively points out another teachable moment, comparing protests of President Obama, historically one of the country's leading proponent of abortion, with Speaker Boehner, who supports cutting expenditures generally, including entitlements, and keeping tax cuts. But America fails to make an important distinction. There is broad agreement among economists that entitlements must be cut; there is no such agreement as to whether raising taxes will increase or decrease revenues and job formation. One factor that must be taken into account is the internationally competitive nature of rates of taxation. Our neighbor to the north, for example, has cut its maximum income tax rate to 16 1/2%; next year it drops to 15%. That change is one factor that will encourage American talent and innovation to remain or head north.
 In sum, when Catholic bishops and others objected to having President Obama, a leading champion of abortion, address a Catholic university, there was no question regarding the what Catholics identify as a moral evil being protested: the killing of innocents. When others protested Boehner's proposals for cutting expenditures and keeping taxes low, there was a great deal of debate as to whether or not such cuts will better provide for the citizenry, including the most needy, by securing the ability of the country to pay, or increasing jobs and revenues or decreasing them. The former supported by President Obama is intrinsically evil; the latter, by Boehner, subject to question and debate on how best to obtain and allocate increasingly scarce resources for the greater good. That debate is valuable. Yet we should all note the ethical differences involved, as the bishops likely did.
In my yard there appeared on my loquat tree a ring of beetle borer holes. Over the next months and years these holes steadily increased up and down the trunk. Still, the leaves remained green and it appeared healthy. All of a sudden, overnight, the leaves drooped. Within a few days they were all brown and the tree was dead. Entropy had set in slowly but won out suddenly. Let's not let something similar happen to our children's future.

7 years 7 months ago

I read the print and digital versions of America regularly and search eagerly for articles that deepen my Catholic Faith, even as the general tone of the magazine takes on an increasingly condescending and polemical tone.

The solution to the problem of our national debit will likely not be found in the pages of America.  What I hope to find in the pages of America is "humility in dialog", that is to say, a willingness to listen and respond to those who hold views different from ours, with the love for one another Christ enjoins on his disciples.

Representative Ryan's budget is not the solution to the debt problem.  His proposals can be the start of an honest debate.  There is a consensus that entitlement will somehow have to be cut. Those whose who have ideas different from those proposed by Ryan should respond with specifics on how entitlements might be cut, while accepting the political risks.

If the editors of America know how to maintain even current medical entitlements as the number of people eligible under existing Medicare guidelines increase and costs of medical care continues to rise sharply, please let the waiting world know.  In my view, maintaining a special option for the poor in this and other areas of the budget will require significant, painful sacrifices from the middle class as well as "the rich".  Even if we could exorsize the demon of personal or party political gain from the debate, convincing Americans to shoulder these sacrifices will not be easy.  Americans will though, as in the past, respond with generosity if the arguments are fairly presented to them.  Partisan jeering from the sidelines from right or left will not be helpful.

While zeal for His house should consume us, it is wise to look back prayerfully from time to time to see if, in our zeal, we have left anything important behind.

Michael Barberi
7 years 7 months ago

I was a Senior Vice President of a major heathcare corporation and a Senior Partner is a world-wide healthcare consulting firm. What is lacking in this debate is the fact that "financial caps on total premiums (i.e., vouchers)" does not work. When the cost of heathcare outstrips the vouchers, you have a different but equally problematic crisis. There is nothing in any proposal about realistically controlling total costs!  ObamaCare is equally problematic because it under-estimates costs and over-estimates savings.

The answer is a combination of painful comprehensive evidence-based protocols, proven benefit incentives and disincentives, appropriate price caps and benefit reductions and reasonable and affordable copayments and out-of-pocket costs....all withiin a real-time computerize medical database and reimbursement system (which does not exist and has not been tested). What is realistic? A series of gradual reforms with teeth. God help us.

Craig McKee
7 years 7 months ago
Everyone is quite familiar with Marie Antoinette's famous quote: "Qu'ils mangent du gateau!" THEN LET THEM EAT CAKE. Less well known, however, is that this flippant quip that ultimately cost her her head followed one of her advisors reporting on the situation in Paris: "Madame, they HAVE NO BREAD."
Keep it up, Washington. Keep it up, state legislators. But don't be surprised when some one RESURRECTS the GUILLOTINE - and not just metaphorically at the voting polls next year!

p.s. NOT surprisingly, not one member of the USCCB raised as much as a whimper when John Boehner mounted the dais at America's CATHOLIC University...
Chris M.
7 years 7 months ago
Boehner “represents the church well.” 

- You have got to be kidding me.  Did the Church just totally give up on teaching the whole bible thing (e.g., helping the poor, sick, homeless, etc.)?  Why not just preach the gospel of the GOP - every man for himself and hold on tight to what you can get.  Money makes the man.  The poor are not our problem. 

No need to wonder why the pews are empty.  It's not from being too offensive or too honest when communicating Christ's messages.  It's just the opposite. 
Patrick Veale
7 years 7 months ago
In response to Walter, I have to say that the comment is correct in every way except for one  little detail, the Bush tax cuts, the bank bailout, the freedom given the financial sector of the economy, the subsidies given agro-business, and above all, the  need to curtail the power of health insurance companies, and hospitals that keep on raising the cost of health care.  Let's start with these few little items, and when that is done, we will have more money in the kitty, the cost of health care will have gone down, and maybe we can throw a few crumbs at the poor and elderly.  
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 7 months ago
Veale, I agree with more than half of what you say. The bank bailout was a terrible idea shared by the drunken sailor spending of the previous president and the comatose fleecing of the drunken sailor by the current one.  We could have followed Sweden's lead and taken over the banks for pennies on the dollar, then recapitalized and auctioned them back to private businesses as Sweden did. It worked for them in their crisis, and was a far less expensive procedure that could have resulted in a far more healthy recapitalized banking system. The subsidies on agrobusiness (and elsewhere) are a disaster. We waste 6 billion a year on ethanol, raising the price of corn to poor nations already suffering from price increases for no improvement in the environment; we subsidize poisons such as tobacco which kill our citizens; we subsidize the greatest health epidemic facing our children, obesity, with sugar subsidies. Could we be more counterproductive and wasteful? This is worse than nothing and benefits mostly wealthy farmers. In my opinion the power we need to curtail the healthcare industry is primarily ending the cozy exclusive relationships certain companies have with the states. Open up the competition, and you're halfway home in that department.The tax cuts in themselves were a good idea, but they should have been coupled with closing loopholes. When you have the Daschles move from house leadership to million dollar lobbyist positions to create special deals for industry, you create subsidies and loopholes that undermine the economy. Obama's own bipartisan commission has many good recommendations along these lines. If he would only buck up and utilize them.
Allen Murphy
7 years 7 months ago
Regarding Mr. Obama speaking at Notre Dame, his anti-life position should not be construed as Protestant vs. Catholic but rather anti-life even under the natural law. Protecting animal life ( as talked about later in the editorial) is laudable. Protecting human life is an even higher moral imperative.  Allen Murphy Westminster, Colorado


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