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The need for dialogue on health care

By Marilyn Murphy
Social Concerns

In his letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, Bishop William Murphy, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development wrote: “On behalf of the USCCB, I want to express hope that the serious dialogue on health care now underway will bring true reform to the nation’s health care system…for a nation with the resources we have, health care should be such that all our citizens receive the kind of health care that provides for the needs of all in a coherent and consistent way.”

This is achievable only if an informed citizenry contacts Congress to communicate “what is important to include in – and keep out of – health care reform.” Bishop Murphy offers the following criteria:

1. Respect for life – affirms and respects the sanctity and dignity of life from conception to natural death and preserves the prohibition on federal funding for abortion.

2. Priority concern for the poor – meets the most pressing health needs of the poor and underserved.

3. Access for all – Provides quality, comprehensive and affordable care for every person living in the U.S.

4. Comprehensive benefits – maintains/promotes good health; provides preventive care; treats disease, injury and disability and cares for the chronic ill or dying.

5. Pluralism – allows and encourages involvement of both the public and private sectors, including voluntary, religious and nonprofit sectors and ensures respect for religious and ethical values.

6. Quality – promotes quality and equity in health services, training providers and informed participation of individuals/families in decision making.

7. Cost controls – creates measures to reduce waste, inefficiency and unnecessary treatment; creates measures to control rising costs of competition and encourages effective and economical use of limited resources.

8. Equitable financing – assures society’s obligation to finance access in an equitable fashion based on ability to pay; and cost-sharing arrangements are designed to avoid creating barriers to effective care for the poor and vulnerable.

Bishop Murphy reminds Congress that the “moral measure of any health care reform proposal is whether it offers affordable health care to all, beginning with the most in need.”

The Center for Rural Affairs has issued an excellent statement examining health care issues in rural America which gives us a perspective on health care reform that needs to be recognized. There are “numerous unique health care issues facing rural people and rural places.” The Center’s paper addresses these situations and “can be used as a checklist against which any bill or public proposal can be measured to determine its value and effectiveness for rural America.” The Center addresses an issue that is at the heart of true reform – the “public option”:

“Viable health care reform legislation should strengthen those public programs currently depended upon by many rural people. The inclusion in health care reform legislation of a public health insurance plan and the option of individuals, families and businesses to choose such a plan potentially addresses many of the health care challenges faced by rural people, particularly small business employers and the employees and the self-employed. Public insurance has a history of health care cost controls. Medicare, for example, had about a 60 percent less health spending per enrollee than did private insurance between 1997 and 2006. Public insurance has also pioneered payment and quality-improvement methods that both control costs and improve the quality public health insurance plan data and information is open to public research. A strong public health insurance plan would also provide needed competition to private plans. The strengths of public health insurance plans are what many rural people and businesses need – stability and cost controls while providing health insurance access to vulnerable populations like low and moderate income families, small business employers and employees and the self-employed. As Jacob Hacker states, the choice between private and public health insurance plans is not an either/or proposition. Rather, they are complimentary and both are needed for a high functioning health care system that provides coverage for all. A system that provides the choice of public or private health insurance plans ‘serve simultaneously as a safety valve and a spur for improvement.’”
Finally, the Coalition on Human Needs has given us a detailed analysis of the first bill to come out of the

Senate for debate. It is the Affordable Health Choices Act. The coalition points out that this bill is not complete in detail but it does give us a picture of the approach to health care reform. There will be others.

For more information on health care reform and/or copies of the resources mentioned above contact: Catholic Charities, 1601 Military Road, Sioux City, IA 51103; telephone, (712) 252-4547; or e-mail, cathchar@cableone.net.

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