Health care, a human right not a privilege

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington Sept. 25 at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

As of this writing it looks like the Graham-Cassidy health care plan is coming to a defeat in the Senate. A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found that only 24 percent of Americans supported this latest attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act. This is just another failed attempt to pass a health care plan since the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Experts claim the rejected bills would have resulted in the loss of coverage for millions of Americans. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said that the Graham-Cassidy plan “would take health insurance coverage away from millions of people, eliminate critical public health funding, devastate the Medicaid program, increase out-of-pocket costs and weaken or eliminate protections for people living with pre-existing conditions.”

The Graham-Cassidy bill would have dismantled all of the major programs created by the Affordable Care Act, taken the money earmarked for them and handed the money over to the states to run their own health care programs. One of its weaker aspects was that states would be encouraged to seek waivers that would allow insurers to charge more money to those with pre-existing medical conditions. There would have been no guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Less coverage would be afforded to adults over 65 years old, nursing home residents, people with disabilities, working poor on Medicaid and those in need of mental health services.

Back in February, Pope Francis told members of the Italian bishops’ conference that when the dignity of the sick person is not at the center of the conversation or deliberation, the attitudes caused can lead people “to take advantage of the misfortune of others. And this is very serious!” He said that when money is the guiding principle in setting policy in healthcare, less attention is given to protecting people and more to saving money.

Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Lori, chairman of USCCB Committee on Religious Liberty, Bishop Dewane chair of USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Bishop Vasquez the USCCB chairman of the Committee on Migration, called on the U.S. Senate to “think of the harm that will be caused to poor and vulnerable people” by the Graham-Cassidy bill.

They added, “Our nation must not attempt to address its fiscal concerns by placing an insufferable health care burden on the backs of the poor.”

Barbara Weinstein, director of Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, said, “Jewish tradition’s emphasis on caring for the sick and uplifting those in need inspires us to demand that the Senate reject this harmful legislation.”

The Rev. Jason Wilson, justice and peace policy fellow, United Church of Christ, said, “What would Jesus do? He would champion health care for all!” The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director, Presbyterian Church USA Office of Public Witness, said, “Passing this bill means that people will die from lack of health care, a reality that we as Presbyterians cannot accept.”

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said, “For centuries, Jewish law has commanded communities to provide healthcare to their inhabitants…we call upon the Senate and House to work together to enhance our healthcare system so that all people can access the care they need and deserve.”

As people of faith and religion our care and advocacy for the poor and sick is a shared concern. As Christians who adhere to a Trinitarian understanding of God, we are called to never give in to the opposite extremes of either an isolated individualism or a collectivism that loses sight or concern for the individual. As God is understood by us as three distinct persons in an eternal collective or community, we also should be always simultaneously concerned with both the needs of the individual and the community. When dealing with the poor and sick among us, we Christians and all people of good faith should listen to the clear biblical exhortation to care for our individual neighbor in need, as well as the family of humanity. Health care should be a human right not a privilege of the wealthy.

Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.