Making Sense of Healthcare Reform


Sister Jean DeBlois is a professor of moral theology at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri.

Making Sense of Health Care Reform
by Sister Jean DeBlois, Ph.D.

Living in the first decade of the 21st century is daunting, if you ask me. We are bombarded constantly with information in such great detail and in overwhelming amounts that it is difficult, if not impossible, to get our bearings and think clearly and reasonably about the issues that are part of our daily reality.

What I find particularly perplexing is this: how are we supposed to know where to find the TRUTH about issues in the midst of all of the chatter that is going on in the cyberspace around us, which informs (correctly or not) the many purveyors of “truth” that come to us via the media?

One of the most difficult issues to get our collective arms and heads around today is the issue of health care reform. What does it mean? How will it affect me? What of all the rhetoric about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 should I believe?

At the end of this brief article you will find reference to several non-partisan Web sites that, in my judgment, provide accurate and clear explanations of what this massive bill will do over the next few years. I encourage you to read this material and gather with your community and friends to discuss the implications of this important piece of legislation.

As a bit of background for your informed conversations, let me offer a couple of thoughts about health, health care and health care reform drawn from our Catholic tradition.

First, as we all know, everything we have is a gift of a loving and gracious God. Our health is one of the most basic and precious gifts we have and our response to this gift is to be that of stewardship. In his very thoughtful book, On Thinking Institutionally, Hugh Heclo discusses the dimensions of stewardship based on the basic assumption that the gift never belongs fully to the one gifted but remains the sole possession of the giver.

With that in mind, the author reminds us that “stewardship begins with the act of entrusting.” God puts our health in our own hands with the clear expectation that we will faithfully receive this gift and exercise careful fiduciary oversight. At some point, however, the gift will be returned to the giver and we will be held accountable with regard to the way we cared for it.

To say that I am responsible for my own health does not negate, of course, the fact that I often may need the assistance of others—physicians, community, the health care system, the government, etc.,—to do this. But ultimately I am the one who is responsible for insuring that I care well for this gift.

Second, because of this need for assistance in caring for one’s health, the Catholic tradition asserts that access to a basic level of health care is a fundamental human right required by adequate regard for the dignity of the human person.

Moreover, since the health of poor and vulnerable persons is often more “at risk” because of the many disadvantages they have to contend with, we Christians are called to help insure that unimpeded access to needed health care services is a reality for them. Our CSJ appreciation that every person in need is a “dear neighbor” to us deepens our conviction in this regard.

Finally, the Catholic tradition has always held that the state or government has a role to play in ensuring availability to those goods and/or services that belong to the whole community or society. Health care is one of these “public or social” goods. While we can argue at length about degrees of involvement, it is clear that in a complex society such as ours the structuring, financing and effective delivery of health care services to all persons requires governmental intervention.

And although Americans have argued for years that “we have the best health care system in the world” there has been incontrovertible evidence for the past 40 years to show that the over-priced, under-regulated, difficult to access and navigate U.S. health care system was not serving U.S. citizens or the U.S. economy well.

The fact that some 43+ million Americans lacked access to basic needed health care services in 2008 was a clear indication of the need for wide-ranging and fundamental health care reform. The $938 billion Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is an attempt to respond to this need.

As we think about, argue over and discuss the shortcomings and merits of this monumental piece of legislation let’s keep in mind what our Catholic tradition offers as context for our considerations. In addition, let us make a sincere effort to understand what this bill is really about and resist falling prey to the fear-mongers who cry “death panels,” etc., in order to confuse and advance a specific political agenda rather than to insure that every American has access to safe and affordable health care.

Resources on the Web

 For further study, consult the following:

5 Facts About the Uninsured

1. Most of the nation’s uninsured are low or moderate income.

2. More than three-quarters of the uninsured are in a working family.

3. Medicaid fills a key gap by preventing more people from becoming   uninsured.

4. About one-quarter of uninsured adults go without needed care due to cost.

5. Medical bills are a burden for the uninsured and frequently leave them with debt.

Kaiser Family Foundation
September 2010

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