Health care is a human right

The Senate health care bill was not expected to be a light shining in the darkness, but now that it has been unveiled, it's clearly stingy and disheartening, much like the House bill.

I am sure, if one asked, that many of these Senators would say they are Christian, claim a religious tradition, or belong to a church or synagogue. But reading the provisions of this legislation, I am left wondering what ever happened to "Blessed are the poor" and "Whatever you do for the least of these, you do unto me?"

I'm referring not only to specific provisions, or the attempted repeal of Obamacare; I refer to the heartlessness with which the replacement bill offers truncated care or support to the elderly and sick people of low income.

A handy summary of the provisions in both the House and Senate versions of this health care bill was published by National Public Radio.

Especially disheartening in the Senate bill are the provisions for cutting Medicaid funding, which pays for health care for the poor. Medicaid coverage for long-term care could be cut as federal payments to states decline. (Good luck if you need nursing home care.) Medicaid would not be required to cover mental health after 2019. (So much for people suffering from dementia.) And Medicaid cuts would be larger than those in the House bill, which is itself pretty draconian.

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Perhaps most disturbing of all, both the House and Senate bills would repeal taxes on corporations and the wealthy, taxes that pay for insurance subsidies under Obamacare. 

In other words, these bills charge the poor more for health care and give money back to the rich in lower taxes! Why do I think these bills have that formula backwards?

When I look at this legislation, I am reminded of the health care systems of Western Europe or Canada, where health care is treated as a human right, not a privilege for those with means. And although Obamacare did not go nearly as far as those systems, it looks much better than these attempted substitutions.

I am also reminded of Catholic social teaching. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), speaking about Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, summed up the differences: "With all due respect to our speaker, he and I must have read different Scripture," Mr. Kennedy said. "The one that I read calls on us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless and to comfort the sick. It reminds us that we are judged not by how we treat the powerful but by how we care for the least among us." I agree.

It's time for the United States to join our friends in Western Europe and Canada and inaugurate a new, universal health care system funded by taxpayers and accessible to all. That would look at lot more like the "justice" of the Gospel. 


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