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Monday, August 24, 2009

Constructive Dialogue in Health Care Debate

By Robert Gilligan

The summer months generally provide slower news cycles than other times of the year, but the debate over reforming our health care is providing plenty to talk about.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has put out a number of statements on health care reform, and the bishops in Illinois are considering a brief statement as well that will draw readers to principals based on Church teaching rather than the latest sound bite from our favorite talk show host. USCCB does not have a hidden, partisan agenda, but I cannot say that about all those involved in this debate.

I trace the modern era of divisive, successful politics with the defeat of Judge Bork’s nomination to the US Supreme Court. We’ve seen it time and time again in the modern era. Perhaps it is not new, divisive politics has been around for a long time, but the advent of modern media and the ability to communicate instantly creates a sense of sensationalism that inhibits promotion of true discourse and discernment about political issues. People constantly criticize the bishops for various reasons, but their efforts to promote a constructive dialogue should be especially welcoming at this time.

The seeds of divisive politics are all around us. Too many are attempting to use this issue to bring down President Obama. The fact of the matter is that the health care system is broken and this issue needs to be addressed. Others, legitimately motivated are very concerned that the reform being discussed will only lead to a huge government bureaucracy with benefit packages that not only include public funding of abortion, but also inadequate end of life care. So the question for us is how do Catholics promote the common good in the health care reform debate without being dragged into the divisive nature of the political battles?

As a public, we need a better understanding of the problems. Few of us even really understand the true dimensions of the problem. Who is not insured and why? What are the true costs in health care? How does a cooperative health care system work? For those of us with health care why should we be concerned about the rising cost of providing health care? Also, why should we support reforming the system to allow more people to have access to care?

In the solution, what happens to other solutions such as decoupling health insurance from employment? It was discussed during the campaign, but recently the focus of the debate seems to be directed on the public option.

The bishops will be the first to say that they do not have all the answers, and, quite frankly other interest groups mired in this debate do not either. What we do have is a way to frame the issue to ensure we promote the common good. Now it’s up to the laity to work to get that message to our elected leaders.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009 7:16 AM

Fair enough Bob,

But the statement that "many are attempting to use this issue to bring down President Obama" is a bit of a stretch.

Presdient Obama has made a massive increase in the size and authority of government the centerpiece of his administration. Objecting to this increase does not amount to trying to "bring down President Obama".

My assumption is that if President Obama would step back from his plans to expand abortion funding, de-centralize decision making for end-of-life matters and step back from authoritarian control of the insurance industry...some type of reform would have passed already.

However, in the rush to get this passed, President Obama overstepped his mandate and has generally irritated a lot of people.

There is plenty of room for sensible reform, but how can we be sure that our politicians are planning anything sensible?


John P.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 9:32 AM

The U.S. bishops did the American people an enormous favor in 1985 in their Pastoral Letter "Economic Justice for All." They provided us with a very simple 3 point mechanism to evaluate various competing economic policy options (and certainly that's what we're talking about here in dealing with national health insurance policy). The three criteria are:

(1) What does a particular economic program DO FOR PEOPLE?

(2) What does it DO TO PEOPLE?

(3) How do people, especially the poor and vulnerable participate?

It would seem to me that the non-profit private insurance based systems of Japan, Germany and France score highest (over the "for profit" health insurance system here and the single payer systems of Britain and Canada) when evaluated by these criteria.

Dennis K.

Monday, August 24, 2009 11:34 AM

A nice summary of where things stand and what the real issues are from a man widely known as "one of the most astute public affairs executives in the state."

Nick t.