Catholic Right Takes Aim At the Public Option.
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Aug 31, 2009 at 07:30:56 PM EST
Unsurprisingly the Catholic Right is front and center in fighting health care reform.  The primary target is the public option; a practical concept that would allow Americans to choose between a private and a government insurance plan.

The Catholic Right nay-sayers include not only include the usual suspects - Deal Hudson, Brent Bozell III and Bill Donohue - but several bishops and a cardinal.  And in doing so, they are using stock right-wing talking points that evoke fear and anxiety.

Key to any real reform of health care delivery in this nation is the implementation of some sort of public option for insurance.  Without it, there would be no impetus for insurance companies to provide coverage without denial due to pre-existing conditions or recission - the practice of collecting premiums but then canceling coverage as soon as the insured becomes ill.

Dr. Walter G. Bradley a noted neurologist, advisor to legislators on health care, told me that he strongly believes "that we need a two tier system," observing that, "we already have it; all that needs to be done is to extend the public system to the un- and under-insured."

Bradley also says that the public option is necessary for both greater coverage and real cost savings:

The public system needs to be in overt competition with the private insurance companies. Simply put, the bargaining power of the government-run system, plus the government's ability to develop a salaried M.D. workforce, like the VA, would eventually convert the current system into one where greater than 50% of the population makes use of the government or public system (100% would be enrolled) at a cost of less than 70% of what we now pay, and less than 50% of the population purchase additional insurance to provide them with the current level of medical care, investigations and medications through health insurance companies.

In other words, fixing the system through a government option does not destroy the current system but makes it far more efficient.

However such ideas mean that insurance companies would be subject to greater regulation.  That would mean no more arbitrary recission or denial of coverage due to a pre-existing condition.  Since they would be able to profit from providing health insurance they would be subject to oversight just in much the same fasion that public service commissions regulate public utilities.  Hardly the stuff of Marx, Lenin -- or Hitler.

Nevertheless, leaders of the Catholic Right such as the afore-mentioned Deal Hudson, Brent Bozell III and Bill Donohue have cloaked their very secular opposition to universal health care in the garb of traditionalist Catholicism by engaging in the very same smears of "euthanasia" and "rationing."  It is a very cynical ploy indeed.

Cynical?  Well, Hudson, Bozell and Donohue have long been part of the right-wing noise machine and their religion has become a political commodity.

Hudson, who had to resign from editing Crisis Magazine after sex scandal broke about him in 2004, had a position created for him by the magazine's editors as head of the Morley Institute.  According to The New York Observer former New York Governor Pataki law partner William Plunkett along with former GOP national chairman and Bush # 43 Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson then raised money for this endeavor.

Donohue is an adjunct scholar with the conservative strategic think tank Heritage Foundation - whose distaste for universal health care is well-known. Bozell runs The Media Research Center ("MRC").  Both groups receive generous funding from the likes of JM and Castle Rock Foundations, both of which underwrite laissez-faire advocacy.

Via a July 29, 2008 press release the Catholic League's Bill Donohue became part of the death panel misinformation campaign, mendaciously proclaiming that there is language in the House version of the health care reform bill, "that implies that the federal government may become involved in euthanasia."

As well as:

No one with whom we spoke said the government is entering the business of euthanasia. But this is not enough. We need to know exactly what is meant by the following:  "An explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available...."  We also need to know exactly what is meant by "The Secretary shall publish in the Federal Register proposed quality measures on end of life care and advanced care planning...." The public has a right to know exactly what is meant by terms like "end-of-life services" and "quality measures."  Now is the time to settle this issue.

But by far, the Catholic Right's assault on the public option is being led by the tag team of Deal Hudson and Brent Bozell III.

Hudson has been particularly active in spinning laissez-fairy tales about a public option. Writing in the on-line journal Hudson resorted to vagueness, innuendo and downright fear-mongering:

The rationing of health care services is inevitable.  Since government-run health care cannot supply all citizens with the health care they desire, many will complain their right to health care is being denied.  The government will respond by saying that it reserves the right to determine what a citizen's right to "basic" health care means, in terms of actual medical treatment.

Under the proposed legislation, the federal government will be making the decision about when and where to deny individual requests for health care.  The complaints formerly made about private insurance carriers will be directed by the federal bureaucracy.  The problem will not be solved, merely relocated.

Giving the responsibility for adjudicating the meaning of the health care right to the government poses obvious problems for Catholics, and should be a deal-breaker for the bishops.  We can be sure its rationing will limit medical care for the elderly.  We can also be sure it will include abortion and euthanasia counseling.

What exposes the lie in Hudson's argument is that government is already experienced in efficiently delivering health insurance in the form of Medicare and Medicaid as well as health care through the Veterans Administration.  In fact, it is the insurance companies and for-profit HMOs that rely on bloated, corrupt bureaucracies -- not the government. As Dr. Linda Peeno, a former medical claim reviewer for Humana, told Congress it is the purely private health care providers who coldly and impersonally deny necessary health care procedures.

Beyond that, such language is nothing more than a demagogic point aimed at Catholics.  Once again, I posed the question to Dr. Bradley, about the UK's National Health Service (Dr, Bradley was born in the UK and practiced medicine under the National Health Service before coming to America). He responded:

With regard to age and disability influencing medical decisions in the UK, there is some truth in that but it is blown completely out of proportion. Also, there is a similar, though higher, threshold in the USA; it's just that no-one discusses it. These are not "death committees" a la Palin. Rather they are appropriate communications between doctors, patients and caregivers at the personal level about options and quality of life.

Dr, Bradley added, "The government should not interfere in the personal decisions of patients and families and I do not believe that any potential program would allow it to do so."

Now several prelates are joining in the fear mongering.  Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, for example, warned about public funding for abortion.  The reliably strident Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver -- he of denying Communion to pro-choice Catholic pols fame -- weighed in by reprinting an E-mail of a mother of child with Down syndrome who feared "...someone in Washington making decisions..." about their daughter's health care.  Of course Chaput allows this person's fallacious fears to stand as fact, instead of reassuring her and his followers that they are unfounded.

Bishop R. Walker Nickless, of the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa is drawn from boilerplate laissez faire economic assumptions:

Unlike a prudential concern like national defense, for which government monopolization is objectively good - it both limits violence overall and prevents the obvious abuses to which private armies are susceptible - health care should not be subject to federal monopolization.  Preserving patient choice (through a flourishing private sector) is the only way to prevent a health care monopoly from denying care arbitrarily, as we learned from HMOs in the recent past.  While a government monopoly would not be motivated by profit, it would be motivated by such bureaucratic standards as quotas and defined "best procedures," which are equally beyond the influence of most citizens.  The proper role of the government is to regulate the private sector, in order to foster healthy competition and to curtail abuses.  Therefore any legislation that undermines the viability of the private sector is suspect.

While Nickless believes regulation without a public option is the answer, he fails to mention the 46 million uninsured Americans.  Regulation of private companies might improve coverage for the already insured, but if there is no public option, then the uninsured will still go without.  (It will come as no surprise to learn that Nickless is a protégé of Archbishop Charles Chaput.)

Nickless's words sound more like the Heritage Foundation than traditional Catholic teaching on economic justice.  But more than that, such a claim has no basis in reality.  Columnist Marie Cocco explained:

It was predictable that the right wing would declare a voluntary public option a scary "government takeover" of health care.  That's what they always say.  Only a few years ago, the same crowd was in a full-throated roar about how government-guaranteed Social Security benefits had to be turned into private investment accounts.  They claimed -- with perfectly straight faces -- that we'd all do better if we retired on our Wall Street riches.

Does anyone still believe that?

Apparently Bishop Nickless and those on the Catholic Right do - or at least, pretend they do.

But for our purposes, what does this say about these six representatives of the Catholic Religious Right? Actually quite a lot.

For the likes of Deal Hudson, Brent Bozell III and Bill Donohue would resort to mendacious means to protect the interests of their benefactors who provide funding to Heritage, MRC or the Morley Institute is not surprising. In doing so they camouflage the considerable corporate opposition to necessary forms of health insurance and for a fair and vigorous public option.

As for Archbishop Chaput, Bishop Nickless and Cardinal Rigali, such recklessness sets a new low. Perhaps these three princes of my faith are genuinely worried about issues of abortion and euthanasia. But to react in such a reactionary manner tells us that they are so obsessed with these what are in reality, peripheral issues that would gladly leave 46 million plus Americans without health care coverage.

Simply put, they are using their religious authority to mislead regular folks about a government option.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Aug 31, 2009 at 07:34:42 PM EST

One commenter at another blog I read suggested that if the bishops really wanted to support uninsured families and uninsured pregnant women, they could have Catholic hospitals cover medical care for pregnancy, delivery, and the first year of the child's life. The bishops ought to remember that we lay people are ultimately footing the bill for their medical insurance, just as we've footed the bill for their sex abuse scandals, and have paid the price for their damage awards by watching our churches closed to raise money.

Chaput, Nickless & Rigali resemble the Pharisees Jesus condemned in this past week's Gospel (Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.) Their concern for issues of abortion and euthanasia would be more meaningful if they made any effort to support health care for people who die every day in this country because they lack the money to get medical care. Their stupid comments are also fulfilling the prediction I made that health care concerns would likely founder upon abortion politics.

by khughes1963 on Mon Aug 31, 2009 at 09:09:17 PM EST

and so sad.
The unholy alliance between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Republican Party continues.

by nogodsnomasters on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 09:49:16 AM EST

Well look, it's our old friends Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Kansas City, Kansas and Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph!

They too have added to the fear-mongering with contributed this nonsense:

The bishops assert that "our country, in some ways, is the envy of people from countries with socialized systems of medical care." Grounding their critique in the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that higher levels of authority should not usurp what can be done better or more efficiently at lower levels, the bishops write that a "centralized government bureaucracy" poses three risks:

    * "A loss of personal responsibility"
    * "Reduction in personalized care for the sick"
    * "Higher costs"


A hasty expansion of government programs, the bishops warn, could create "a future tax burden which is both unjust and unsustainable" as well as fostering "permanent dependency for individuals or families upon the state."

In that light, Naumann and Finn propose that "some system of vouchers - at least on a theoretical level--is worthy of consideration." Vouchers, they write, could give individuals an incentive to make prudent financial decisions and to take common-sense preventative measures, such as better diet and exercise, while still giving them a direct say in their own care.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 07:36:53 PM EST
Finn & Naumann aren't putting their collective funds where their  mouths are to help deal with the problem. Their proposals resemble the unrealistic solutions two members of Congress offered to different constituents with expensive medical conditions. Would said vouchers cover increasingly high medical costs? I really doubt it,  I think they've been holding back on their chief complaints about abortion, contraception, and euthanasia.

by khughes1963 on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 10:35:33 PM EST

I think this is a great option taken by this catholic. I am sure that if you guys asked this catholic for a restaurant stocks list, he would answer similarly. This is just something that a lot of people want right now.

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