Monday, November 9, 2009

Healthcare: a long way from reform

Health care reform passed in the House of Representatives, but not by an overwhelming margin. 218 votes are needed for a majority in the 435 member House and the health care bill passed with 220 votes. There was only one Republican who voted for the bill. The lone member of the GOP to vote for the measure was Anh Joseph Cao, who was elected last November. Cao, a conservative, represents a very liberal district in New Orleans. He defeated the disgraced Rep. William Jefferson, the one in whose freezer the FBI found cold, hard cash allegedly from bribes he took. In an all too rare posting in this highly partisan post-partisan era, Quin Hillyer, writing on the blog of the conservative magazine The American Spectator, makes an eloquent defense for Rep. Cao's vote.

Rep. Anh Joseph Cao, (R) Louisiana with his daughter
Before anyone gets too excited, the Senate has yet to vote on their version of health care reform. It is not a given that it will pass due to the fact that approval of the legislation in the upper house requires 60 votes. With the possible exception of Sen. Snowe, no Republican will vote for the Senate measure, which means that only two Democrats need to vote against it to vote it down. Senator Lieberman is committed to leading a filibuster if the Senate bill contains a public option. So, only one Democratic defection is needed to force either non-passage or to deliver a bill very different from and perhaps even irreconcilable with the House bill. Given the political realities involved, there will be more than 2 Democrats who will oppose a public option. In all, thirty-nine Democrats, including Jim Matheson of Utah, voted against the House bill, something that finally brings to the fore the fact that the Dems took control of the House back in 2006 and increased their majority in 2008 because conservative districts elected conservative Democrats. It is good to see the so-called Blue Dogs finally flex a little muscle. Of course, facing re-election next year focuses a lot of political minds. Even should the Senate pass a bill, any final measure would emerge from a House/Senate conference committee, which would be formed to work on a bill that the House and Senate would both vote on. In other words, we are a long way from reform.

The price tag of the House measure, which is double the size of the originally estimated $900 billion, will be of tremendous concern to the Senate. It's like the stimulus bill, we need comprehensive health care reform, but do we need what the House passed? I think not.

It is certainly good news that Rep. Stupak's amendment, explicitly prohibiting federal funding for abortion, was approved as part of the House measure, though no member of the Democratic leadership was willing to say they would fight to keep it in the conference committee negotiations. Contra uncle Teddy's dishonest niece, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, writing in Newsweek: prior to the enactment of the so-called Stupak amendment there was not language in the bill prohibiting the use of federal funding for abortions. I find it appallingly contradictory, not mention morally confused, that in the same article and apparently with a straight face Kennedy Townsend argues for the need to lower infant mortality rates in the U.S. AND for making abortion more widely available, stating with regard to abortion that she considers herself "pro-conscience". "Women," she writes in a frightening display of newspeak, "do not make the decision to have an abortion lightly, but it is absolutely critical that they have the means to make this decision and access to the care they need, no matter what their choice. Anything less would be turning the clock back on the progress we have made on advancing women's health!" Like her cousin, who earned a robust rebuke from his bishop, she has the audacity to call the bishops out for insisting that health care reform not expand access to abortion. As Bishop Tobin pointed out to Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who he called an embarrassment and a disappointment, the U.S. bishops have been advocating for health care reform long before it became the political issue du jour. As regards the Stupak amendment, 194 Democrats voted against it, thus leaving 64 Democrats voting for it. Of the 177 Republican House members, 176 voted for it, with one member voting present. Some 41 Democrats wrote to Speaker Pelosi threatening to vote against the bill if the Stupak amendment passed! In the end, they voted for the bill amendment and all, but no doubt this effort contributed to the ambivalence of the Democratic leadership in staunchly supporting the amendment through conference committee negotiations should the Senate pass a bill, too.

While it may have been a shrewd and even necessary political move back in 1960, JFK's speech in Houston to a group of Protestant ministers is not the place to start when trying to articulate the role faith plays in governance, but Kennedy Townsend seems to think it is. Most people in the U.S. are not in favor of what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus dubbed "the naked public square." As John Paul II taught so fervently for the years of his pontificate: freedom divorced from the truth is not freedom, it is dangerous, especially for society's most vulnerable members. Besides, to check one's most cherished beliefs at the door of the chamber of power is not even human because it is an act against both reason and conscience. By contrast, Reps. Bart Stupak and Anh Joseph Cao stand as a bright examples of acting in accord with reason and conscience, of honorable service to their constituents and, hence, to their country.

While I am on the subject of bishops in the public square, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York takes on anti-Catholicism in the news media in a blog post simply titled Anti-Catholicism.


  1. From what I understand of the 2009 bill that is being worked on it may offer a reprieve for those many people who currently recieve no health care in America. But it still does nothing the address the issue of the immorality of profiting from the illness of others. I think as long as American health care is motivated by profit based companies all health care reform will be nothing but lipservice to voters.

  2. Is a doctor immoral? I don't think so. We have to be careful and reasonable what we criticize. Health care is a legitimate economic issue. Of course, making/keeping health care affordable is important. Hence, I think one can make a pretty good case for keeping insurance private.

  3. Some Doctors can be considered immoral just as some can't. Your right the case can be made for private insurance profiting from the health industry. It can also be made for making the entire system a non-profit system. Who knows? All I do know is that there are too many people going without while we argue about it.

  4. It is not inherently immoral for a doctor to charge fees for her/his medical services, just as there is nothing inherently immoral in insurers competing to provide the highest quality health care at the lowest cost. The German system is a better system than the single-payer systems, even if a little heavily regulated. On the large scale, we have to balance solidarity with subsidiarity. We have to use moral language carefully. To wit: if an entity can offer quality health care at a an affordable price and make a profit there is no moral problem. Morality is basically objective. Without a doubt health care in this country needs reform, but let's not kill a fly with a sledge hammer.

  5. Language defines all of course, and I will be the first to admit that I am no master of it. But it seems ridiculous to quibble over scraps when so many people are in need. This is difficult for me to understand. Not being an economist or a theologian, just a layman. But regardless it seems that 'people' are more concerned with protecting their investments then caring for there fellow beings. This is what I mean by immoral. Thanks for your understanding.

  6. It is not quibbling over scraps. People are convinced that the public option is the way to go. Congressional Budget Office numbers show that the public option will be more expensive than current health care premiums. of course, the public option is not for profit. It is not quibbling because gets down to what is really needed to reform health care.

    It goes without saying that too many people lack access to necessary care. This means that gov't certainly has a role to play in addressing this problem. However, we have to pay attention to what gov't does, what our elected officials want to do. To enact expensive reform that exacerbates the problem is not the answer.