K.C. bishops: health-care reform? Go slowly.

(After writing this I realized Dave Gibson already posted on the statement. But, because my post does something a bit different from his, I'm leaving it up.)Via John Allen: Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Bishop Joseph Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph have released a "Joint Statement on Principles of Catholic Social Teaching and Health Care Reform." Allen's nut grafs:

Opening a new front in official Catholic reaction to health care reform, the two bishops of Kansas City have issued a joint pastoral statement warning not only against an expansion of abortion or mandatory end-of-life counseling, but also the dangers of excessive centralization and government socialization of medicine.Experts say that the critique goes beyond pronouncements offered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or by other American prelates, which typically have called for preserving pluralism in health care but otherwise seem neutral, or even favorably inclined, to new government initiatives.

The bishops identify several problems with the U.S. health-care system, including the 47 million uninsured, the rising costs of health care, the state of the Medicare trust fund, and the fact that people with preexisting conditions are often denied insurance coverage.But, the bishops write, the American way of health care also has strengths. To wit: "Most Americans like the medical care services available to them. Our country, in some ways, is the envy of people from countries with socialized systems of medical care." And don't forget, "85 percent of citizens in the U.S. do have insurance." Sure, 47 million may be uninsured, but, the bishops write, a 2007 Kaiser Commission study showed that 11 million of them were "eligible to receive care through SCHIP or Medicaid, but were not enrolled." And, hey, competition works; the market produces innovation! "Doctors and other scientists immigrate to our country because of the better compensation given to those who provide quality medical care or produce successful research." And the final strength of the U.S. system listed by the bishops: Medicare and Medicaid work--despite their limitations.

The bishops argue that while many claim we must change the U.S. health-care system,

change itself does not guarantee improvement. Many of the proposals which have been promoted would diminish the protection of human life and dignity and shift our health care costs and delivery to a centralized government bureaucracy. Centralization carries the risk of a loss of personal responsibility, reduction in personalized care for the sick and an expanded bureaucracy that in the end leads to higher costs.

Naumann and Finn lean on the much-abused principle of subsidiarity to drive home the idea that health-care decisions are best made at the local level. And that principle, according to Naumann and Finn, rests on the dignity of the human person. So, you can see where they're going: no to any bill that federally funds abortions, no to any bill that attacks the conscience protections of health-care workers. Actually, no to any bill that doesn't "clearly articulate the rights of conscience for individuals and institutions."Without using the term "death panels," the bishops call for any health-care reform to exclude "mandated end-of-life counseling for the elderly and the disabled." They refer to a statement from the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses that argues such counseling "would place undue pressure on the individual or guardian to opt for measures to end life, and would send the message that they are no longer of value to society." They don't provide an argument for that claim.Naumann and Finn approvingly cite Bishop Nickless, who "commented on the dangers inherent in the establishment of a health care monopoly, drawing a comparison to the experience of HMO plans in our country, where individuals entrusted with keeping the cost of health care at a minimum may refuse to authorize helpful or necessary treatment for their clients." To which they add:

The right of every individual to access health care does not necessarily suppose an obligation on the part of the government to provide it. Yet in our American culture, Catholic teaching about the "right" to healthcare is sometimes confused with the structures of "entitlement." The teaching of the Universal Church has never been to suggest a government socialization of medical services. Rather, the Church has asserted the rights of every individual to have access to those things most necessary for sustaining and caring for human life, while at the same time insisting on the personal responsibility of each individual to care properly for his or her own health.

True enough, as far as it goes. But, again, who is proposing "socialized medicine"? And to what extent is personal responsibility limited by the realities of the health-care market in the United States?We must find a way to provide a safety net for the needy, according to Bishops Naumann and Finn. But "safety nets are not intended to create permanent dependency for individuals or families upon the State, but rather to provide them with the opportunity to regain control of their own lives and their own destiny."Finally, Naumann and Finn deploy an argument I don't recall seeing from a Catholic bishop: "A hasty or unprincipled change could cause us, in fact, to lose some of the significant benefits that Americans now enjoy, while creating a future tax burden which is both unjust and unsustainable."

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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