By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
WASHINGTON (CNS) — As the head of the Catholic Health Association expressed hope that President Barack Obama’s health care summit would “move health care reform closer to completion,” the leaders of a group of Catholic physicians called on Congress to scrap the current legislative proposals and start over.
“The American people are tired of partisan bickering and want lawmakers to find common ground toward creating a stronger, more equitable health care system,” said Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is CHA president and CEO.
“The current window of opportunity is small, which is why we encourage summit participants and other key leaders to move from argument and misinformation to consensus and collaboration — now,” she added in a Feb. 23 statement.
But the president and executive director of the Catholic Medical Association said in an open letter to Obama and members of Congress Feb. 23 that “the most responsible course of action” at this time would be “to pause, reflect and then begin the legislative process anew, working in a more deliberate and bipartisan manner.”
“It is more important that health care reform be done right than to finish the legislative process by a date certain,” said Dr. Leonard P. Rybak, president, and John F. Brehany, executive director of the association of U.S. Catholic physicians.
A Feb. 25 summit convened by Obama was to bring together key members of Congress from both parties and government officials to discuss an 11-page proposal unveiled by the president Feb. 22.
Obama’s proposal would amend the Senate-passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to reflect “policies from the House-passed bill and the president’s priorities,” according to a White House fact sheet.
No specific legislative language was released, but a summary of the president’s plan makes no mention of abortion or health care for immigrants — two of the highest priorities mentioned repeatedly by leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in messages to Congress.
Although the House-passed bill was amended to exclude abortion funding, the Senate version was not. Neither bill meets the USCCB’s criteria for providing health care coverage to immigrants.
A poll released Feb. 23 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the nation is evenly split on current health reform legislation, with 43 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed. Three percent said it “depends on which proposal,” and the rest said they did not know or refused to answer.
Asked what they think Congress should do now about health reform, 32 percent said lawmakers should “move soon to pass the comprehensive legislation” already passed by the House and Senate; 22 percent said they should stop working on it now and take it up later this year; 20 percent said they should “pass a few provisions where there is broad agreement”; and 19 percent said they should stop working on health care reform this year.
The margin of error for the poll conducted Feb. 11-16 was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
In her statement, Sister Carol said the American people “expect action and statesmanship” and “expect lawmakers to step up and agree to sensible policies to protect human life and dignity, improve quality and control runaway costs.”
Saying that “our prayers are with the summit participants,” she added, “We hope and expect that those in attendance, as well as other lawmakers and administration officials, will rise above partisan politics and fulfill their responsibility to give Americans the leadership and change they are demanding.”
The Catholic Medical Association officials said, however, that the reform process must begin again, “given the clear lack of support from the American people, and given the substantial flaws that exist in House and Senate bills.”
Referring to the summit, they said, “While we applaud members of Congress and President Obama for being willing to meet together for a frank exchange of ideas, we think this is no time for political posturing or partisan gambits.”
“The best chance for achieving authentic health care reform in the foreseeable future is to start the process of legislation over and avoid the mistakes of the past year,” Rybak and Brehany added. “We believe the American people will rally behind sound legislation.”
Specifically, they urged a bipartisan process, respect for the doctor-patient relationship, efforts to aid the poor and uninsured that are “effective and economically sustainable,” and respect for “fundamental human and constitutional rights.”
“There is no right more basic than the right to life, and no right more central to American constitutional order than the right to freedom of conscience and religion,” they said. “Legislation must not compel any public funding of, or provider participation in, abortion. Moreover, the rights to conscience and religious liberty of health care providers must be more comprehensively protected as the power of government regulation grows.”
A coalition of Christian and Jewish leaders and scholars echoed the criticism of the “partisan and polarized debate” in a Feb. 23 letter to the president and congressional leaders and said “there are facts that clearly demonstrate the necessity, both economically and morally, of passing health care reform.”
“We ask that you remember this crisis is not about doing what is best for Democrats or Republicans,” they said. “This must be about living up to our highest ideals as a nation and serving the common good.”
Signers of the letter included Morna Murray, president of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed in Orlando, Fla.; and David Robinson, executive director of Pax Christi USA.
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