Cover the Uninsured Week
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
March 2009

Sixteen years ago a new president initiated a plan to reform the nation’s health care system. For Catholic leaders, it was a time of intense involvement and activity. Catholic health care facilities, who made up the largest network of nonprofit health care providers in the country, had an obvious interest in the outcome. The nation’s bishops worked to convey that the reformed system must respect human life, religious liberty, and treat health care as a right for all.

The reform never happened. Once again we have a new president initiating a plan to reform health care. What is different? For one thing, more interested parties than before acknowledge that the present system is unsustainable. Large businesses and insurance companies have joined the call for for reform.

Although some facts have changed, the basic problem has not -- too many people lack health care coverage or are underinsured. Consider these facts provided by the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

  • In 2007, forty-six million Americans were living without health care coverage.
  • Since the Census Bureau collected 2007 data, the unemployment rate has grown from 4.4 percent to 7.6 percent, resulting in 3.5 million new people who are now uninsured.
  • An estimated 14,000 persons a day are now losing coverage as a result of the recession.
  • Sixty-four percent of the uninsured are employed full-time, year- round.
  • Nearly 20 percent of uninsured Americans, or 8.7 million persons, are children.
  • Ethnic minorities make up a disproportionate percentage of the uninsured population.
  • The poor are more likely to be uninsured. Thirty-four percent of non-elderly persons below the poverty line are uninsured, compared to 21 percent of non-elderly persons earning two to three times the poverty line.

The Church’s interest in health care reform has also not changed. Catholic facilities are still the largest nonprofit providers of health care in the country. The bishops interest in health care reform has not changed because the Church’s teaching has not changed.

In the Catholic tradition, health care is a basic human right. Access to health care should not depend on where a person works, how much a family earns, or where a person lives. Instead, every person, created in the image and likeness of God, has a right to life and to those things necessary to sustain life, including affordable, quality health care.

From this basic teaching and the Church’s experience as providers of health care, several priorities for reform identified in 1993 are still relevant today.

Priority Concern for the Poor/Universal Access: Health care reform must give a priority concern to the needs of the poor and result in true universal access.

Respect for Human Life and Human Dignity: Real health care reform must protect and enhance human life and human dignity. It cannot be used to promote or include destructive practices such as abortion or euthanasia.

Pursuing the Common Good and Preserving Pluralism: A reformed system must encourage the creative and renewed involvement of both the public and private sectors, including voluntary, religious, and nonprofit providers of care. It must also respect the religious and ethical values of both individuals and institutions involved in the health care system.

Restraining Costs: Stewardship of our resources demands that real health care reform address the rising costs of health care.

March 22-28 is Cover the Uninsured Week. Take the opportunity to pray for the uninsured and get involved in creating a just and life-affirming health care system.