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CURRENT ISSUE:  January 22, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 2Oakland, CA

Catholic hospitals weigh in on health insurance proposal

Catholic organizations and hospitals are cautiously praising --- as well as scrutinizing --- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ambitious plan to require all Californians to carry health insurance and to mandate that employers, hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and individuals share responsibility in paying the costs.
But, like many groups and individuals who already have expressed reservations, Catholic leaders say careful study of the plan’s provisions is necessary before such a plan can be implemented.

Calling the governor’s proposal “a good effort,” Steve Pehanich, director of Catholic Charities of California, said, “It’s a good goal to cover all Californians. Now there’s the question of who pays for it.”

Bill Cox, president and CEO of the Alliance of Catholic Health Care, which represents 60 Catholic-run hospitals in California, lauded the governor’s decision to prioritize healthcare reform in his second term.
“It’s very encouraging to us in Catholic health care ministry in California that the governor and the legislative leadership are focusing on the need to move to universal health insurance coverage in the state of California. We’re very excited about that,” said Cox.

In the coming months the details of the governor’s massive plan will be examined carefully, added Cox.
Al Hernandez, associate director of the California Catholic Conference, said the conference viewed the governor’s proposal to reform healthcare “very positively.”

“We commend the governor for taking that step. It’s only a first step,” he said. “We know that responsible people will be raising concerns about costs to employers and individuals. But this is a conversation that must be had in order to address this daunting problem.”

A team of policy experts was hired last year to devise the proposal that would fix what Schwarzenegger called a “broken” healthcare system. One in six Californians (6. 5 million) is uninsured, as are 42 million in the U.S.

The governor’s comprehensive and complex $12 billion plan would provide subsidies to low-income families to buy health coverage. Healthy Families would be expanded so that all children have access to healthcare, even those in the state illegally.

Employers with 10 or more employees who choose not to offer health insurance would contribute four percent of their payroll towards the cost of employees’ health coverage. Physicians would contribute two percent of revenues and hospitals four percent.

In the closing days of the 2006 legislative year, representatives of the CCC and other community organizations and stakeholders were invited to several meetings with Schwarzenegger’s senior health advisors. They engaged in a general dialogue about healthcare priorities and ideas about what a fair healthcare system would look like, said Hernandez.

The CCC advocates on behalf of the state’s 10 million Catholics, which represents 29 percent of California’s population.

Catholic teaching has a long-standing tradition of advocating for and defending human dignity, said Hernandez.
“California bishops have been consistent for many years that in order to honor human dignity we must provide --- as a society --- access to a responsible level of health care,” he said. The CCC “views [healthcare] as a human right,” he added.

It becomes a moral issue, said Hernandez, if society has the means and the medical technology to provide healthcare, but chooses not to because the person lacks insurance or the ability to pay out-of-pocket costs.
“The ultimate consequence of not having some level of healthcare is that we would reduce any human who is poor and does not have health insurance to die on the street, because we cannot take care of them. This goes against human dignity,” he said.

While many praised the governor’s bold decision to make healthcare accessible to all Californians, even the poor, Pehanich expressed concern that Schwarzenegger is simultaneously seeking to cut back welfare subsidies.

“I hope he’s not setting up a situation of trading one set of assistance to the poor for another,” said Pehanich. “We can’t look at healthcare in isolation. We can’t rob Peter to pay Paul.”

 


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