Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Concern for the Poor in Health Care

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 21, 2009

There’s a lot I’ve wanted to write about over the past several days, but I've been totally bogged down in snow removal and final fundraising activities for the year. Writing is more fun than either (and hopefully more ultimately useful). With both of these less-enjoyable activities now in the rear-view mirror, I think the first item I’d like to take up is concern for the poor in health care.

I received another one of those emails over the weekend which suggested that it would be hard to persuade others to support us in view of our callous indifference to the fate of forty-five million poor Americans who cannot afford adequate health care. This sort of assertion continues to amaze me, because it so very completely misses the entire point of everything Phil and I have written about health care reform in the United States.

From the first time I addressed this issue, I asserted that, in our culture, the ubiquity of good health care and the expectations concerning its availability had reached the point that we needed to do something, as a matter of social justice, to improve health care for the relatively small percentage of Americans who were still without health insurance (for my essay on the proper way to reach this conclusion, see The Bishops, Justice, Health Care and Social Change). Both Phil and I have argued repeatedly that there are right ways and wrong ways to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, we have been forced to concentrate most of our editorial firepower on opposing one of the wrong ways, in order to clear the way for one of the right ways.

I’m sorry, but I refuse to be blamed for the deliberate insertion of false ideas about the value of human life, including support for abortion, into the very packages and programs which should have a proper respect for life at their core—and which, in fact, lose their very meaning as “health care” without that fundamental respect for the life, rights and dignity of each person. I will not be backed into that corner. I will not stand accused of indifference to those less financially fortunate because I balk when somebody presses an ideological gun to my temple and calls it “concern for the poor.”

In that gun there are at least six bullets: Abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, harvesting of human embryonic materials, gender-change procedures, and medical rationing by those who serve an anti-life ethic. None of the major issues which are being debated, including the astronomically high cost of these Federal proposals, has very much to do with insuring the poor. There are far cheaper ways to get that done which do not carry all this ideological baggage. To my way of thinking, those who insist that the culture of death be injected into every health discussion are the ones who are showing a callous disregard of the poor.

They are, in fact, allowing their ideological passion to impede the process of helping the poor and (as Phil notes today in The abortion distortion) they are intent upon setting up a system that must be dismantled as soon as less ideological heads prevail. Look: With 85% of Americans already insured, and some portion of the remainder capable of, but opposed to, insuring themselves (for many young and healthy people choose not to use their income in this way), we find ourselves within striking distance of full coverage even through existing mechanisms. That striking distance is so close that it would apparently cost considerably less simply to insure the poor through existing carriers than to approve any of the sweeping Federal proposals to date. Tax incentives and other pressures and inducements could bring this about even more cheaply.

The Catholic Medical Association thinks the Federal government needs to start over, and to quit ignoring both life ethics and the benefits of subsidiarity. So let’s not kill any more poor people than necessary to get this done, shall we? And let’s stop calling a spade a heart, and a heart a spade.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Bellarminite1 - Dec. 23, 2009 3:52 PM ET USA

    Seems to me it'd be far less expensive for the government to just pay the premiums of those that are below the poverty line.

  • Posted by: FredC - Dec. 23, 2009 8:58 AM ET USA

    (1) I know by personal experience that the poor receive full, excellent medical care when they arrive at the hospital. The new, untested theory is that the cost of this medical care will be less if the poor subject themselves to preventive medicine. (2) "Basic health care" must be defined and decision must be made if every insurance policy, including policies for the poor, must cover more than basic health care.