Interview by Joe Bollig
Q: Is health care reform necessary?
A: The right kind of health care reform is necessary. What I mean by the “right kind” is reform that would provide access to health care for those who currently do not have it. And it would also help control costs for everyone.
I think one of the troubling elements of our current situation is that health care costs have risen at a much [faster] rate than salaries or other costs in the economy.
So, I hope that good reform would provide access for more people and help to better manage the cost of health care for everyone.
Q: Is the present health care system truly broken?
A: The term is used sometimes that “the health care system is broken,” and I think we have to put some nuances on that, because there are elements of the health care system that need to be changed. But, on the other hand, we have the best quality of health care of any country in the world and of any civilization in the world’s history. In that sense, there is better health care available to more people today than ever before in human history, so I think we have to keep it in that perspective.
Q: What are your concerns about the bills working their way through Congress?
A: One of the biggest concerns is that those who promote abortion are trying to hijack health care reform as a way of advancing their agenda. One of my greatest concerns would be mandated abortion coverage — making it part of the basic health care package. This would coerce everyone in America to pay for abortions and become complicit in abortions.
Q: Several bishops are concerned about conscience protections, as well as end-of-life protections. Are you also concerned about these?
A: I think conscience protections are a critical issue. We have a great tradition in the United States of protecting the exercise of one’s conscience regarding health care providers. It’s essential that at least the current protections are maintained for both individuals and institutions.
And, yes, there is grave concern about health care reform being used to advance euthanasia. Part of that concern is in the efforts to reduce costs. Some of the methods could be used to deny legitimate treatments for those whose lives are “deemed unworthy.” I think the effort to rush through a reform bill — where no one seems to know all that’s included or excluded, who are included and excluded, and money matters are left open to interpretation by government bureaucrats — raises some legitimate concerns.
Q: Some have called for “abortion neutral language,” while others call for language excluding abortion. Which is the better alternative?
A: I believe we need explicit language that prohibits abortion funding, and prohibits health care reform from being used to expand abortion funding. I think that without that language, we are vulnerable to a court, a legislature, or members of the executive branch of government interpreting the language of the law [differently] at a later date.
Q: What should Catholics keep in mind as we consider the issue of health care reform, such as how much should be government or private?
A: I think these are things… where good Catholics can disagree. I think the basic principles of health care should not include procedures that destroy or offend the dignity of human life. These are clear principles the church enunciates.
Another principle is that everyone should have access to basic health care services.
I think it’s very important for Catholics to be engaged in this debate in our society and to make sure that their voices are heard and the values that we hold are included in health care policy.
Q: It has been suggested that, given the positions of current executive and congressional leadership, our best efforts should be directed toward protecting pro-life progress reflected in current law.
A: I think our hope is that we can defend current protections and pro-life policies that are in place, and that health care reform not be used to advance an abortion agenda.