In current battles between church and state about health care and health insurance, it is often the poor and uninsured who end up as unintended casualties. A recent episode in Kentucky demonstrates how this happens—and just how much is at stake.
At the end of last year, the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, rejected the merger of University of Louisville Hospital Medical Center (UMC) with Jewish Hospital, St. Mary’s Healthcare, and St. Joseph’s Healthcare, claiming that such a merger could violate the First Amendment by forcing what had been a public hospital to abide by the restrictions of a religious institution. Catholic Health Initiatives, which describes itself as “a ministry of the Catholic Church,” was to manage the new healthcare network and to own 70 percent of it. (Any health-care organization managed by a Catholic institution must adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives on Healthcare of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—directives that exclude services available at some non-Catholic hospitals.)
Facing funding cutbacks and rising costs, secular health-care providers across the country have been seeking merger partners, and their best option is often to join up with a financially stronger and better-managed Catholic organization. But had the Kentucky merger gone through, it would have been the first time a publicly owned hospital in the United...
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About the Author
Wayne Sheridan is a freelance journalist, poet, and communications consultant to nonprofits. He lives with his wife, Sandra Dutton, on a farm in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City.