August 7, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Health care is a basic human right, not a privilege

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

The Gospels portray Jesus as a man of compassion who was dedicated to his healing ministry. Hundreds of people in diverse circumstances in the land where our Lord traveled throughout his brief time on Earth experienced directly the healing power of God through the words and the gentle touch of Jesus.

Many of the people that Jesus healed were poor. In those days, as is too often the case today, the poor had limited or no access to health care. Our Lord’s love for them caused him to go out of his way to return them to full health. As a result, the blind saw, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, and even the dead were restored to life.

Throughout the past 2,000 years, the Church has carried on the healing ministry of Jesus. No nonprofit organization, government or business enterprise anywhere in the world does more to provide quality health care than the Catholic Church. Even so, much more needs to be done to help those who are most in need.

In addition to the many health care services provided by the Church, we Catholics play a vitally important role as advocates for adequate and affordable health care for all. We believe that health care is a basic human right—like religious freedom, employment, education and the right to participate in the political process. We stand for genuine health care reform for the same reasons that we support changes in education, housing, employment practices and political systems. Above all, we insist that reforms in health care must protect human life and dignity, especially for the poor and the most vulnerable members of our society.

The Catholic Church in the United States has been outspoken in its advocacy for health care reform that is truly universal and that cannot be denied to those who are in need—regardless of their condition, age, social status, economic condition, race, nationality or legal status. Following the example of Jesus, we believe that genuine health care reform must be all-inclusive, affordable and accessible to everyone in need. In short, we believe that providing affordable and accessible health care that clearly reflects these fundamental principles is a public good, moral imperative and urgent national priority.

As we bishops of Indiana write in our recent pastoral letter, Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana:

“For decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been unswerving advocates for comprehensive reforms that will lead to health care for all, especially the weakest and most vulnerable. We believe that health care is fundamental to human life and dignity. It is also a critical component of our Church’s ministry. In collaboration with professionals throughout Indiana, the Catholic Church provides health care, purchases health care and tries to enhance the health care system. The Catholic community serves the sick and uninsured in emergency rooms, homeless shelters and on the doorsteps of our parish churches. We bring both strong convictions and practical experience to the challenge of health care.”

The state of Indiana is blessed with outstanding health care providers, including many Catholic hospitals, clinics, skilled nursing homes and other facilities. The women and men who operate these medical centers are to be commended for the loving care and professionalism that they show to all their patients regardless of their social or economic status. That is as it should be. We are all sisters and brothers in the one family of God, and when any one of us suffers, all of us are affected.

Our pastoral letter on poverty calls attention to the serious need for health care reform, especially as this can address the needs of the poor. In Poverty at the Crossroads, we observe that:

“Many lower-income individuals and families in our state lack the resources to meet the expense of their health care. For these families, significant premiums and cost-sharing charges can serve as barriers to obtaining coverage or seeing a doctor. Therefore, we believe that existing cost-sharing protections should be maintained, and new health insurance coverage options must protect the lowest income enrollees from burdensome cost sharing. We also call for much-needed funding for safety-net clinics, hospitals and other facilities that provide health care to the poor and vulnerable members of our communities.

“We believe that health care is not a privilege, but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person.”

We stand with our Lord, and with the tradition of Catholic health care here in the U.S. and worldwide, in calling for a truly universal approach to meeting the health care needs of all. †

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