The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“For the common good, we need health care for all”

With the debate about health care reform still percolating, I’m going to turn my internet microphone over to a guest blogger, and pal of mine, Sister Mary Ann Walsh. She’s Director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops have recently had a few things to say about this subject.  Maybe this will give more food for thought.

Take it away, Sister.


health-care-reform-in-the-199027s-72213011.jpgThe United States can handle complexity. However, this health care crisis offers a challenge on many levels. When, for example, in the land of the free, can government make someone purchase health insurance? When is it safer to provide preventive care to all to avoid the spread of communicable diseases to some?


Politics adds to the complexity, if some seek to treat the health care debate as a tool to strengthen their political party and weaken another’s.

Size shuts us down if we fear the problem is so big as to overwhelm us. We need to get tens of millions more people into the health care system, but where are the doctors to treat them and the medical schools to produce these doctors?

Yet not complex is the fact that for the common good we need health care for all. It is a matter of morality.

That Americans can look beyond themselves has shown dramatically in recent days, as citizens donated tens of millions of dollars to an earthquake-ravaged Haiti. People reach out when they see others in need. Americans watching the news are proud as they view the floating hospital USNS Comfort treat the wounded and deliver babies off the coast of Haiti.


That same spirit of caring can surely be tapped within our borders, where the moral problem of tens of millions of uninsured people faces us. Time and again people respond to others in need, even if it involves personal sacrifice.

Leaders need to inspire the rest of us to take the long view, beyond the next election, to what is good for the nation overall.

The U.S. bishops point out that health care reform must be guided by a basic principle: to protect and enhance life for as many people as possible. The bishops list four criteria toward this end: Provide quality, affordable health care for all; respect life from conception to natural death; guarantee protection of conscience; and promote fair treatment for immigrants.

Current health care proposals in Congress have taken some good and some not so good steps in this regard.


It is not good to leave between 18 and 23 million people uninsured, as current bills do. If only five percent of them get seriously sick and/or have communicable diseases, we’re talking about 900,000 to 1.15 million people exposed to serious illness or death by their inability to access basic health care when they need it. Given that we’re our neighbors’ keepers, assuring that everyone has access to health care is a moral necessity.
What’s not good is using health care to expand abortion and undermine rights of conscience. The Hyde Amendment and similar provisions, governing all current federal health programs including the federal employees’ health benefits program, bans putting federal dollars into elective abortions or health plans that cover them. Only the House version of the health reform legislation continues this ban. Under the Senate plan, someone opposed to abortion could be forced to write a check to support abortions for others, even in a federally subsidized health plan. Neither the House nor Senate bill would protect a religious institution from being forced to provide or fund services anathema to its beliefs or being penalized for its moral stand.


What’s not good is telling taxpaying residents on the way to U.S. citizenship that they have to be in the country five years before they can benefit from the programs which they help support, while they await their swearing-in as citizens.

What is good is the proposal to help pregnant women have healthy babies.

What’s good is a ban on policies that keep people with pre-existing conditions out of the insurance pool.

What’s good is getting everyone into the insurance pool, including the young professionals who think they can’t ever have a medical emergency, such as a broken bone or cancer. They can be educated to see they need health insurance, just as they need auto insurance.

Americans have handled complexity before, be it the invasion of Normandy in the 40s, the virtual wiping out of polio in the 50s, the landing of a man on the moon in the 60s. Surely the same American ingenuity, self-sacrifice, and good will make it possible to work through the current health care crisis.

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posted January 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Interesting, and I think well balanced article. I do have a thought or two in response to a couple of points you make. You ask “When, for example, in the land of the free, can government make someone purchase health insurance?” When ‘we’ say that everyone is entitled to the health care they need, when they need it. If health care is a right, then it comes with certain responsibilities. One might argue that taking good care of oneself is among those responsibilities, but that won’t fly very far here before being shot down on grounds of individual freedom. Taking financial responsibility is another matter. Donald Trump and Bill Gates probably don’t need to buy health insurance to take financial responsibility. The rest of us, well….
I agree that telling taxpaying residents that they have to wait until they’re naturalized is not a good thing. Telling illegal aliens [and this is a technical term, not a perjorative one] that they are entitled to care at taxpayer expense is not quite the same thing. This is tricky, to be sure, since many people whose presence here is unlawful are in fact contributing, or are here through circumstances beyond their influence, but an awful lot are not. Still, the reason many are here is because they can get jobs. They get jobs because they work for low wages, and their employers often hire them for low wages and simultaneously avoid various payroll taxes. In short, there are several degrees of cheating going on. As a taxpayer I wish not to encourage that cheating. I’d much rather see private charitable organizations take on this burden, and I’ll donate to that cause.
I do believe we can, and will, resolve this issue. It’s going to be very noisy and messy, though, and the final outcome will probably not please anyone entirely. It shouldn’t. There is no one perfect solution, and there are far too many mutually exclusive points of view to imagine ‘everyone’ would agree on it even if it did exist.

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posted January 28, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Deacon have you been to an emergency room lately?

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posted January 28, 2010 at 3:26 pm

The problem with the debate surrounding healthcare appears to be more about political control and less about healthcare.
If the goal is to ensure all citizens and taxpayers, and their immediate families have basic healthcare then lets focus on that. Where the money comes from and who manages the program(s)have to be subordinate to that goal.
Since the federal government has demonstrated consistently that is is incapable of managing large programs(since the Apollo program), I would suggest the feds ask a few states to be guinea pigs and try different solutions and see what works for its people.

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Joe T

posted January 28, 2010 at 8:37 pm

The noble moral objective of providing for person A does not justify the immoral act of doing so by taking money from person B against his will. This is exactly what a government healthcare system financed through taxes does. Charity funded by confiscation is not charity. It is theft under the guise of a “noble cause”.
If you want to help people, as I do, then give to charities, voluntarily. If you want others to join you in this noble cause, convince them to give voluntarily. But DO NOT attempt to hijack the tax collecting powers of the US government (which were granted by the people for a specific, limited, enumerated list of objective – see the US Constitution) for the purpose of collecting funds for your noble cause, by threat of force.
Imagine this scenario as an illustration: Bill Gates is living in a mansion, watching a big screen TV and eating bon-bons while his poor neighbor, who cannot afford a dentist, suffers from a tooth ache right next door. What options do I have? 1) I can do nothing. 2) I can pay for the dentist with my own funds. 3) I can talk to Bill and try to convince him to pay for the dentist. 4) I can take money from Bill, against his will, by threat of force, and pay the dentist. 5) I can leave Bill alone, and force the dentist to treat the man for free, against his will. Which options above are moral, and which are immoral? I’m sure you already know – I’m sure we all do. If 0 is not an acceptable option to me, then I am free to choose between 2 and 3. But 4 and 5 are not acceptable options. In fact, they are worse than 0.

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posted January 28, 2010 at 8:52 pm

The USCCB should call for this entire HCR to be shut down.
It is a train heading down mountain, without any breaks, in an ice storm in the middle of the night. Either they have no clue of what a disaster this will bring upon all or they think that this will allow the Church to funnel money spent on healthcare into other programs. In either case, they are not thinking straight.

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Your Name

posted January 29, 2010 at 2:37 am

People who need health care should get it—
but why should we relegate to Government what Our Blessed Lord charges us to do?
Padre Pio did a pretty good job in San Giovanni Rotundo.
Deacon Anthony

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Ronald King

posted January 29, 2010 at 7:33 am

The government stepped in because we did not. It is as simple as that. If you want to be upset with someone then be upset with people in our faith not doing enough and come up with a better plan.

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posted January 29, 2010 at 10:40 am

The Catholic Church is the largest faith based group that provides health care on a low or no cost basis in the US.
There are better plans: Allow insurance to be offered in multiple states, savings plans, tort reform, etc. The options are out there — if you are willing to open your eyes.

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Joe T

posted January 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Sister Mary Ann,
If you say it is a moral imperative to provide health care for all, then you should be quite happy with our current system. Our current system already provides free health care for anybody who really needs it. People without health insurance are treated at emergency rooms every day at taxpayer expense. If I get shot, the ambulance takes me to the hospital, and I get treated, even if I have no insurance. This unearned assistance is granted in cases of need. It is grace, funded by compassionate taxpayers, channeled through the government. It works, and it saves lives. That is as far as it should go. But as I see it, we now have people claiming that this is not enough. They think this free service should be expanded to include not just emergency care, but all sorts of preventative care as well. They think all their medical needs should be funded by taxpayers. This is wrong. It is like the beggar demanding not a slice of bread, but the whole loaf. If you are not content with the charity of others, you can gracefully decline. But to demand more is an ugly combination of greed and ingratitude.
Ronald King,
I understand what you are saying, and I agree that if we Christians, who are supposedly the vast majority of the US population, were serious about charity, we would be providing the social safety net that people are now demanding from the government. I think this logic applies well to true charities, like orphanages, homeless shelters, and the like. These should be (and once were) the monopolized domain of (religious) charitable organizations, funded through voluntary contributions alone. I wonder if we citizens had been truly generous in funding them, if the state might never have ventured into this “business”.
But I do not think this logic extends to “healthcare reform”. As I pointed out above, the government already does provide a charitable component of healthcare (emergency room service) for those truly in need of immediate care. And if you notice, the “healthcare reform” bills they are trying to shove through congress are not about charity – they are about forcing people to buy insurance through the government. So this new “service” that they are trying to create is not a service that should have ever been provided by the Church. (I’m pretty sure that forcing church members to buy health insurance through their church is NOT a part of the great commission.) Don’t you agree?

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Mike L

posted January 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Joe T.
While the government does supply care in an emergency, it does not supply necessary care to prevent that emergency. If you are a diabetic and need insulin, you can darn well wait until you go into convulsions and then the government will help, put you back on the street, and wait until you go into convulsions next week. Diabetics are not the only ones to have this kind of problem. It wou8ld seem that in your view it seems sufficient to wait until cancer is life threatening before treatment is available in emergency rooms. Of course it is probably a lot cheaper to do it that way then waste money on those that are “only” sick.
As for forcing people to buy health insurance, I find it no different then forcing people to pay for roads, for public education, standing armies, space exploration, faith based care for pregnant women, disaster relief for Haiti or all the other things that we end up paying taxes for.

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posted January 29, 2010 at 5:36 pm

We have created a link to this article.
Our website,, strives to be a valuable resource for learning about – and expressing your opinions on – all the issues of the day. We invite all political writers to visit us, and perhaps set up a profile, and post more links to articles such as this.

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Joe T

posted January 29, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Mike L
I agree it is a fine line – at what point does the suffering of your neighbor necessitate action on your part to alleviate that suffering? God, in his infinite wisdom, has left that choice to the individual. Surely, He knew this would mean that selfish, cold-hearted people would often look the other way, and that many people would suffer. But such is the price of granting freedom to sinful creatures. But if God is cool with that, so am I. Suffering appears to be part of His plan. Of course, so is compassion. But while suffering is mandatory (“In this life, you WILL have trouble”) compassion is optional. God made it that way on purpose. You can go against His will if you choose, but I’d rather not.
Just so you don’t twist that around in some crazy fashion – I’m not saying that because suffering is part of Gods plan, therefore alleviating suffering is against His will. No. What I am saying is that removing that CHOICE, and FORCING people to help others, is, I think, against His will. (Consider the tithe. God said that withholding the tithe was equivalent to robbing Him. And yet the tithe, which clearly was used for Gods purposes, was optional. Think about that.)
So, from a philosophical and/or theological perspective, I don’t think it is right for government to force charity on anybody. Of course, God also ordained government among men, and I am obligated to pay taxes, even if the government uses those taxes to do immoral things. If our government officials use my tax dollars to act in immoral ways, they are accountable for that, not me.
So, I will pay my taxes, and take solace in the fact that, despite all the government waste and immorality, much of that spending creates good effects. One such good effect is saved lives via the emergency room. But even here, the state must draw a line somewhere. And clearly, (at least it is pretty clear to me) that line cannot be draw in such a way that the state is obligated to provide care for anybody who is “only” sick, or in danger of becoming sick. And just as clearly, we cannot take the position of providing all sorts of preventative care, from gym membership fees to organic health food stamps, in the hope that this will keep everybody healthy. (At least not for long – the system would collapse under its own weight. Ask the Soviets.) So, while you may say you don’t like the current system, it is the best system I have ever seen. (Not because of government action, but because of government inaction.)
>”It would seem that in your view, it seems sufficient to wait until cancer is life threatening before treatment is available in emergency rooms”
Yes. Now, before you get all worked up, realize that I don’t like cancer any more than you do. I am a widower because of cancer. But think for a moment about what you just said. If you think we SHOULD treat cancer for free, on taxpayer money, in the emergency room, BEFORE it becomes an emergency, where do you propose to draw the line? If cancer is an emergency before it becomes an emergency, why not all other illnesses? Alcoholism is fatal too. And smoking. And asthma. And diabetes. And obesity from eating too many donuts. Should treatments for these conditions be provided at taxpayer expense BEFORE they become life threatening? No. There should be some system other than the emergency room to deal with these problems. And there is. It’s called health care in a free market.
The reason we, the American people, do not object more strongly against the current system, which uses our taxes to provide emergency help in emergency situations, is precisely because we know that it ONLY treats emergency, life threatening conditions. We did not sign up for anything else, because we know the abuses that would follow. At least I do. And so do most other Americans. This is precisely why the emergency system is what it is. We CHOSE it, not because there were no other options, but because we realized that the other options were BAD options. They still are.
Finally, if you find forcing people to buy health insurance no different than forcing them to pay for roads, police forces, and military forces, then I might suggest a quick refresher course on the US Constitution. Our founding fathers took great pains to clearly define what was, and what was not, legitimate functions for our government. Take up and read.

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posted January 30, 2010 at 12:37 am

Insurance is a financial tool to help a person deal with risk. Health insurance is not health care. If you want to help people who are not receiving proper medical servicesn, expand programs like Medicaid and encourage charitable contributions. Do not buy their insurance for them. To do that is to go against liberty. People should give “not out of compulsion, but out of free will and gratefulness to God”.

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