April 8, 2010
With the stroke of a pen on March 23, 2010, the Affordable Health Care for America Act became law. The debate over health care in America has raged for almost a year. The stakes have been high. Nearly $400 million have been spent just in lobbying by drug companies, hospitals, health care providers and Planned Parenthood. The new law brings with it a price tag of an estimated $1 trillion.
The funding for the changes introduced by this law will come from an increase in taxes. The Medicare payroll tax will increase. There will be a new tax on certain high value health insurance plans. Fees on insurance companies will also rise. Money to operate the new system will also come from a decrease in government payouts to hospitals, insurance companies and Medicare. About one-quarter of seniors who at present enjoy private insurance plans offered through Medicare Advantage will be affected by these changes. Many people wonder how other cutbacks because of costs will affect the elderly. They fear that, once the law’s provisions goes into effect, the elderly will face government imposed limits on medical treatment and operations or even denial of their health care.
Many hailed the new law with great enthusiasm. The new law has introduced the most sweeping change in the American way of life in the last half century. In the days ahead, we will learn more and more of what the law contains. It has been designed not simply to correct some of the problems of health care in the United States, but to revamp the entire $2.5 trillion health care industry.
Some good things will come about because of the new law. Thirty-two million Americans who are now without insurance will be insured. Insurers will no longer be able to refuse coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions; and, young people will be able to remain on their parents’ insurance until they are twenty-six years old.
Nonetheless, there are serious flaws in the bill. No wonder, therefore, that the political discussion that preceded the passage of this new law continues even after its passage. America remains divided over the health care issue. The vote for the bill that the President signed into law was clearly along partisan lines.
However, I wish to comment on the new law neither in terms of the politics that managed to squeeze the bill into law, nor in terms of the lack of transparency in the discussions prior to its passage. As a teacher of the faith, it is my obligation to enunciate clearly the moral principles that are part of our Catholic patrimony. The new health care law clearly casts aside certain moral principles that undermine the common good of all, whatever their religious convictions.
First, the new health care law is broad, but not universal. The law leaves in place the provision that legal immigrants must wait five years to be eligible for Medicaid. Immigrants without documents will not receive any public benefit. They are excluded from the new health insurance exchange. Thus, both groups of immigrants, documented and undocumented, are barred from access to public services funded by their taxes, that is, from their labor. This hardly promotes social justice. It certainly goes against the fundamental Christian virtue of charity. A truly universal health care policy would have provided access for all and would have shown a true concern for the poor and immigrants among us.
Second, the new health care law excludes some of those most in need. While cutting back in Medicare and placing a great emphasis on caring for those who are young enough to profit from medical assistance, the bill deliberately excludes the youngest among us. The American people had been promised that, in any final bill, no federal funds would be used for abortion. We were also promised that the legal status quo in terms of abortion would be respected. Despite the repeated promises of the Administration that the bill would not fund abortions, the bill not only does not exclude funding for abortion, but it also expands federal funding for abortion and for insurance plans that cover abortion.
A strong majority of Americans oppose federal funds used for abortions. But the new law ignores their voice. The bill that the President signed into law sanctions the killing of the youngest and neediest among us, children in the womb of their mothers. All the partisan cheers and broad smiles hailing the passage of this law cannot hide the narrow-minded lack of compassion for the poorest of the poor among us, the unborn child.
Furthermore, the language of the new law deliberately voids the long-standing Hyde amendment that prohibits federal funding for abortion. The President’s promise to sign an executive order to the contrary may be well- intentioned. However, an executive order cannot trump a law passed by the Congress. When challenged, the courts will uphold the law, not the President’s order. For the first time ever, federal funds will now pay for abortions.
The majority of Americans upholds and cherishes the fundamental right to life from the moment of conception in the womb of the mother to the moment of natural death. From this basic human right, all others rights flow. However, the new law continues the myth that abortion is health care.
When Miguel H. Diaz met with Pope Benedict XVI for the first time as the United States’ representative to the Holy See, the Holy Father reminded him that there is “an indissoluble bond between an ethic of life and every other aspect of social ethics.” When human life is treated like property to be disposed at will, the fundamental fabric of society unravels.
Third, not only does the new law undermine the President's pledge to retain existing protections on abortion funding, it refuses to guarantee freedom of conscience. The language of the law deliberately avoids this basic principle of respect and tolerance. The law will now force those who rightly judge abortion an abhorrent moral evil to become involved in an act that profoundly violates their conscience.
Catholic hospitals care for millions of people each year. What will happen to these institutions when they refuse to do abortions? They will be forced to close. This will be the tragic consequence of our legislators’ refusal to guarantee freedom of conscience. This new law fundamentally perverts the common good. It divides us. It deals a fatal blow to the possibility of preserving pluralism in a diverse nation.
The President ended the signing ceremony of the new law by saying “We are done.” Yet, the new law does not guarantee a truly universal health care system
for all. We still face the challenge of continuing an authentic health care reform that is broad enough and compassionate enough to include everyone. We are not there yet.
A nation cannot stand without a solid moral foundation. Tragically, in the rush to reform health care, our representatives in Congress chose to deny basic moral principles necessary for the common good. They wrote a bill that denied the right to life from the moment of conception to natural death, the freedom to follow one’s conscience and the care and concern for the poor, the weak, and the immigrants among us. If these basic moral principles are not recaptured and lived, the President’s words when he signed the bill into law will become prophetic: “We are done!” In truth, we are far from done! We have a great moral tradition that can still make America great.