Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The USCCBs Bully Position on Patients' Rights.

Religion Clause reports on the continued criticisms lobbed by the USCCB against the Senate version of health care reform. While I am happy to see them raise coverage for the poor and immigrants to the level of their discriminatory stance on women's rights and conscience protections for doctors, I find this extended tantrum by such a powerful organization as the Catholic Church (provider of health care via more than 620 hospitals across the country, according to their religious doctrines, despite federal funding and tax-exempt status) to be a sad departure from Christian values.

The church has despicably used its colossal role in the delivery of health care (garnered over decades of making Catholic health care it's "mission") it's excessive claims of charity and care for the poor, it's paternalistic justification for moral superiority, and false representation of it's parishioners (who predominantly support women's rights) to further the discriminatory agenda of enforcing women's role in society. They have done everything possible to stymy reform, despite their stated claims of tolerance for plurality and concern for the "least of these."

If the church has rallied Americans to oppose further expansion of abortion via health care reform because they oppose "taking from my pockets to kill the unborn," so too do I oppose the breach of church and state separation and the taking of my tax dollars for support of their "mission."

While the U.S. Senate appears poised to finally pass a health care reform bill before Christmas, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops remains opposed to the Senate version on the ground that its limits on abortion funding do not go far enough. According to statements issued last Friday and Saturday by the Bishops, the Manager's Amendment (full text) to H.R. 3590 "does not seem to allow purchasers who exercise freedom of choice or of conscience to 'opt out' of abortion coverage in federally subsidized health plans that include such coverage. Instead it will require purchasers of such plans to pay a distinct fee or surcharge which is extracted solely to help pay for other people's abortions." The Bishops stressed that their criteria for acceptable health care reform includes three moral criteria: "respect for life and conscience; affordability for the poor; and access to much-needed basic health care for immigrants." According to The Boston Pilotyesterday, the Bishops applauded amendments that expanded adoption tax credits and assistance for pregnant women, but the abortion language apparently remains the block to obtaining their support.

At issue is nine pages of language (pp. 38-46 of Manager's Amendment) on how abortion coverage will be handled. It provides (1) any state may elect to bar abortion coverage in policies offered through the Exchange in that state; (2) elsewhere each insurance company may decide whether or not its plans will cover abortion services; (3) if a plan does cover abortions, no federal subsidy may be used to pay for that coverage; (4) instead the insurer must collect a separate payment from the insured for that coverage and segregate those funds for use for abortion services.

The Bishops' concern seems to be that under this arrangement, abortion coverage will still be in some policies that receive government subsidies, so long as a separate check is written for the part of the premium applicable to that coverage. Instead, according to a
Dec. 14 letter from the Bishops, they want language in the House bill that was proposed as an amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson, but was defeated by the Senate. That language provides that no federal funds could be used "to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes abortion coverage." After that loss, Sen. Nelson negotiated the language in the Manager's Amendment and according to AP argued that the differences were "about a staple." By that he means that the disagreement is over whether abortion coverage-- which would be paid for separately in either case-- would be a part of the subsidized policy (not acceptable to the Bishops) or in a separate rider stapled to it (acceptable to the Bishops).

As an aside, the U.S. is not the only country struggling with the abortion issue.
Interfax reported yesterday that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed amendments to the country's Federal Advertising Law banning the advertising of abortions in a wide variety of media and locations. Many of the restrictions seem to be aimed at preventing advertising of abortions to minors.

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