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US bishops back comprehensive health coverage for illegal immigrants May 27, 2009

The American Catholic bishops have apparently thrown their support behind a proposal to offer comprehensive health care to illegal immigrants.

In a May 20 letter to members of the US House of Representatives, Bishop William Murphy-- writing in his capacity as chairman of the Domestic Justice and Human Development committee for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)-- argues that the federal government should ensure "comprehensive and affordable health care for every person living in the United States." Bishop Murphy writes that individuals' access to comprehensive coverage should not depend on "where they live or where they come from." Those two sentences seem clearly to signal support for coverage that would be extended to people living in the US illegally.

While Bishop Murphy's letter indicates some concern about controlling the costs of health care, he does not grapple with the potential costs of offering comprehensive coverage, at the government's expense, to anyone living in the United States. The costs of such extensive coverage would presumably be enormous, however, particularly since the bishop specifies that the coverage should be "comprehensive," rather than providing simply for basic medical necessities.

Bishop Murphy reminds lawmakers that the Church has a long history of involvement in health care, and in America today Church-run institutions provide for roughly one-sixth of all hospital patients. Thus, he writes, the Church speaks with some expertise on the topic.

The USCCB has consistently supported health-care reform efforts, the bishop says, and now hopes for a broad reform "leading to accessible and affordable health care for all." A successful reform, he says, would require "a truly universal health policy"-- presumably under the auspices of the federal government.

Bishop Murphy's letter emphatically reminds legislators that the Church will oppose any health-care reform that would require taxpayer subsidies for abortion and other medical services that offend against the dignity of human life. He adds a flat prediction about the political consequences of any such requirement:

No health care legislation that compels Americans to pay for or participate in abortion will find sufficient votes to pass.

Experienced political veterans on Capitol Hill question that prediction. A comprehensive health-care reform would include benefits for many different constituencies, they point out, and a sweeping legislation would probably attract votes from many legislators who ordinarily support the pro-life position.

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