Liberal Catholics are salivating over Pope Benedict’s message to the 25th international conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care ministry, using his words to imply Vatican (and church teaching) endorsement of the recent health care legislation passed by the Democrats and President Obama.
When orthodox Catholics take Vatican statements to be applicable to US affairs, liberals cry foul, but when their favored policies may be the background to a Vatican statement, suddenly what the Vatican says becomes important to them.
The problem is, the pope isn’t endorsing Obamacare in this message. But the good news is his message provides me with the opportunity to, once again, express my strong commitment to his (and church teaching’s) vision for heath care justice, something that has been almost completely lost amid all the noise of opposing Obamacare’s false solutions for achieving this bulwark of the common good.
The first thing to realize is that just because the Church is in favor of ensuring that people receive health care does not mean the Church automatically endorses any proposal that walks through the door claiming to do this. In this case, I believe the legislation passed by the Democrats will result in a net detriment to what our dollars earn in terms of health.
Let’s excerpt some key passages and discuss them:
It is necessary to work with greater commitment at all levels so that the right to health is rendered effective, favoring access to primary health care.
Primary health care is already available at emergency rooms across the country. Medicaid provides health care coverage to those unable to afford it themselves. Many people of their free will (especially young men) choose not to purchase health care insurance because they don’t believe it to be in their best interest. Now, under Obamacare, everyone is required to register for health insurance or risk a hefty fine. The President’s promise that people will be able to keep their coverage if they like it is already going up in smoke, and the fact that the administration has given out 111+ institutional waivers shows that businesses are finding it difficult to continue offering health care coverage without risking serious financial strain. Are we to believe that Obamacare has really made things better in this regard?
Important also in the field of health, integral part of each one’s existence and of the common good, is to establish a true distributive justice that guarantees to all, on the basis of objective needs, adequate care.
Obamacare does not expand care. It expands coverage. Obamacare did not make any new doctors, nurses or hospital equipment. In expanding coverage, many people mistakenly believed that more American citizens now have care. In America we are experiencing a doctor shortage, a nurse shortage and a shortage of actual medical care. In Massachusetts and other government-sponsored universal health care systems (notably the UK), the fact that everyone has “healthcare” does not help everyone receive care. In fact, rationing and delay-of-care is becoming more and more the norm. Here in the US, Medicare and Medicaid (the government’s major healthcare entitlement programs) are worse offenders than private insurance when it comes to being unable to actually provide care to their subscribers. An expansion of government-care over private-care means more bureaucracy, means more money going to things besides actual care. Again, Obamacare has not made this situation better, it promises to make it worse.
The Pope spends a great deal of time condemning pathways to health care justice that fail in providing for human dignity and protection (especially of the unborn). The new funding streams for abortion present in the health care legislation (see video), the fact that Planned Parenthood is currently lobbying for contraception to become free to Obamacare subscribers (as a “cost-saving” mechanism), and that the elderly are the greatest financial drain on any communitarian health system and therefore stand the greatest risk of seeing their benefits curtailed or eliminated are all substantial proofs for how Obamacare fails to achieve the basic standards for health care coverage and care that the Pope puts forward.
There has been a lot of talk about preventive care (a concept that does not appear in the pope’s message). In all the studies of universal preventative care mandates that I have seen, preventative care is a net loser for public health. That’s because it costs more to have everyone undergo preventive care than it does to treat people who actually evidence signs of being sick. The idea that having everyone going to regular exams (even if they do not feel sick) and thereby consuming scant medical resources will substitute for the cost of caring for those who are sick does not pass arithmetical muster. I would rather have my doctor caring for those who are sick rather than constantly ensuring that I do not get sick. In a perfect world I would love to pay a doctor to watch over me full time, but I don’t have the money, and there are other people who do need his help, now.
Looking at the global perspective, as the pope must, it appears to me that he is more concerned over the lack of basic care in poorer countries of the world – countries that would best be served in the long term medically by becoming more affluent as a society. America, as the government which provides the most overseas aid, is less able to send money outside the country if more of it is being misspent domestically. In industrialized countries (such as the US), the pope appears more immediately concerned with the perversion of medicine that sees health care as a luxury item as part of a deformed “cult of the body.” If we want to talk about health care injustice, we should be talking about the decadent culture where women pay $20,000 for plastic surgery, as well as the mother of four who is encountering problems in paying for her maternity needs. Health care injustice is not solely rectified by government subsidies of people’s basic health care costs, it is rectified by promoting a culture that views the body properly.
You are welcome to read the pope’s message yourself to see if you think I am representing it fairly, and if I am faithfully reflecting on his directives and applying them to the health care legislation enacted by the Democrats.
Let me conclude with a fundamental point I have stated before. In this entire health care debate, it has come down basically to the difference between people who believe private insurance should be allowed to provide care freely, and those who believe the government ought to establish a system of taxes, mandates and regulatory bureaucracies to oversee how this care is provided and paid for. The argument that “these people are dying” (the number of people who die each year because of a lack of health care is miniscule – I’ve looked at the studies) and that this is the reason we have to endanger our entire medical system and expose it to more waste and inefficiency for those who are receiving care currently is far more callous, uncharitable, and reckless than doing nothing. Presenting the wrong solution doesn’t solve a problem.
I don’t believe government achieves the goal of providing the best health care to the most number of people better than private insurers. I believe the government is far more prone to abuse, waste and ideology than the private sector, and particularly the Catholic health care network. If Obamacare is not repealed, I believe we can all look forward to an impoverished offering of health care to more American citizens, and can expect American citizens and the country to become poorer as we pay more for less.
Liberals should at least acknowledge that the difference between them and conservatives, and orthodox Catholics, is how we achieve health care justice for all, not if this is a worthy goal to pursue in the first place. On that we agree. I submit that the burden of proof still lies with those who believe Obamacare will actually establish health care justice for all. I see little evidence that it will, and plenty of evidence that it won’t. That’s my prudential conclusion, and I am saddened by my suspicion that in passing Obamacare, America has drifted even further away from the vision of health care justice that the pope presents.
UPDATE – while I am thinking about this, let me offer a hypothetical example that may illuminate the prudential reason why, at the heart, I think government solutions to health care fall short. This is purely for illustrative purposes.
Let’s say the pope decreed that it is a human right to own a car. Right now, every car costs $2,000. So what if the government passed a law giving a free car to every American? Catholics would have to support such a law, right? Well, what if the law also raised taxes on every American citizen by $3,000. In other words, it’s true – everyone gets a free car, but it’s also true that the society basically “paid” for the $2,000 car by having to pay the government $3,000 in taxes.
In other words, having a human right to something does not mean that government is the most efficient and just provider of that right, be it cars, or be it our health care.