Where are the bishops on health care?

The health care bill that has been suspended in the Senate for weeks — after a very close passage in the House and some modifications — is dead. May it rest in peace.

This is one time we do not need, nor want, a “resurrection” of any kind. This bill was opposed by dozens of major health care organizations in the United States. Newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times editorialized strongly against it. But that’s not what defeated it. The voices and bodies of citizens spoke out, attended town halls, called their senators, and demonstrated in the streets and the U.S. Capitol. And people were willing to be arrested rather than desert their protests.

Why? Because these people — and millions of others — saw a bill that would have risked their lives, the health of their children or their elderly parents. It would have taken away key provisions of Affordable Care Act that gave many of them access to real health care for the first time. These protestors envisioned loved ones in pain, their medications disappearing, their opportunity for a second chance in life evaporating. So they demonstrated with pictures of those loved ones and told their stories. They crowded town hall meetings and made sure their senators heard those stories, and said bluntly what was at stake.

We have a name for this: democracy in action. And we ought to be proud of the citizens who risked everything to get that message across.

But behind this lies a larger question. When will we Americans finally treat health care as a right, not a privilege? When will we join most of the Western world in offering publicly funded health care to everyone?

And why don’t we hear the bishops loud and clear with this message?

After all, the Catholic Church officially regards health care as a human right alongside food, housing, work, education and transportation. Pope Francis has voiced this sentiment, especially as it affects the poor. “Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege,” he said just recently in May when meeting with Doctors from Africa.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops need to join Pope Francis with this message, and not only oppose the type of legislation that just bit the dust in the Senate. They need to speak out loudly and publicly about the universal right to health care and advocate the single payer system that can make it a reality.

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