Church and Health Care

I have been on the sidelines in the huge health care debate, I find so many good and bad effects in all the proposals I have seen up to now. The first thing to note is that I am swamped by health care bills- one-third of my gross income goes straight to United Health, and then add in co-pays, and some recent Mayo Clinic extra’s, and you get the idea- “Help!”.  I can see how many good people with fulltime jobs and HMO health insurance coverage, are still at risk of bankruptcy if they or their kids get struck down with anything approaching serious or chronic medically.

The problem is compounded by the very real situation of how almost all of us are in some or a lot of danger when it comes to being laid-off from that full-time work- and many Catholics like myself- have wives that are home by choice to better nurture our kids. Ugh! Lose your job, lose your insurance or pay for COBRA which you can’t afford because you don’t have a job- Double Ugh!

Obviously- something big has to come down- we are screaming for reform- but whose reform? What reform? Who can be trusted? Well- I don’t want my tax monies paying for someone’s contraception and certainly no one’s abortion. I don’t want end of life counseling that smacks of “Soylent Green is People!”. So- our Government is rife with liberal establishment types who don’t have pro-life worldviews, and government bureaucrats aren’t always so efficient and friendly either. Now, I have to say I don’t trust the Republican establishment types either- they seem so smitten with big corporate interests, and I don’t think they really do comprehend the economic worries of those of us in the low-to-middling Middle Class. They are doing fine, they seem to presume we are all swell too- not so fast.

Ok- so I don’t trust Big Gov Libs heading by “above my pay grade” Obama, and I don’t trust McCain to really feel my angst as he tries to remember how many homes he and his wife have accumulated this year. So- I have stayed close to the sidelines cringing. But now I have struck upon an idea that I have no idea if it is even out there.

If we don’t trust Big Gov and we don’t trust Big HMO’s, and we are living in something of a new Post-Christian Age of High Tech Barbarian Tribalism- then why shouldn’t the American Catholic Church, already organized along Diocesan lines- simply form a non-profit Health Insurance entity and encourage every Catholic in every parish to be a part of it. Completely open books, open hearts, with each of us encouraging one another to live healthier lives- both spiritually and physically since we will are all affecting one another in a Family way already by being members of Christ’s Mystical Body. This way we could easily exclude contraception, abortion and euthanasia from our Catholic-inspired insurance plans, and we could make the costs adjusted to one’s income, so we could deal with lay-offs, or try to start up our own businesses with much less worry.

Ideally- the Church shouldn’t have to organize this aspect of the temporal order- but in crisis times, the Church must step in to stay consistent with Christ’s commands to ‘Love our Neighbor’. We need organized help, the Church is organized, we need solid moral principles to guide our health care system, and to encourage better, safer, healthier lifestyles- The Church is the master of that game. Maybe I am late to this debate, and maybe I have missed this argument somewhere while I have been focused on my more immediate duties at home and in my classroom. If so, I apologize and let you get back to the more refined points of progressive discourse. One final note- as a point of ecumenical contact, we could look at having some other Christian denominations join in- those that are committed to the moral guidelines proposed above. Insurance is in many ways a numbers game- Catholics are 20-25% of the population- that’s a large pool to spread costs and risks- don’t you think?

9 Responses to Church and Health Care

  • That is a really interesting idea.

    The K of C has developed a remarkable life insurance program that strikes me as a reasonable model for your idea. Add to your idea the existence of so many hospitals, hospices, facilities for the aged, and counseling centers and you have a significant start already.

    Hmmm…

  • I would favor insurance being totally divorced from employment. With that in place, there could be other ideas at work. It could be a part of severence if laid off. It could be included in unemployment insurance by the government so that you wouldn’t lose it between jobs.

  • You miss an important point. The bishops want greater government involvement in health care so they can back out of it and spend less money and resources on it themselves – and if the names and identity of “Catholic” is still attached, all the better. They don’t *want* to be more involved. It’s expensive and bothersome and a liability.

    Bishops are not go-getters and innovators. They are protecters and retreaters.

  • Surely much confusion would be cleared away were one to refer to the proposals as “insurance for health care”.

    It is about money, not about health care.

    Where are the provisions for new hospitals, new medical schools,more doctors, more nurses. Nowhere.

    And the efforts to control liability suits have gone nowhere. The trial lawyers are among the biggest donors to the Democratic Party.

    I am uncertain that our bishops should be involved. They can barely control “their” own efforts. Consider the years of donating to such outfits as ACORN. And Catholic Charities is [rightfully] spurned by parishes throughout the country.

  • Mark,

    You have a good point about the bishops — but why should the bishops be the ones behind it? Why not a lay initiative? Why not expand the KoC program to be open (for only slightly higher fees) to non-Knights? Or why not start an entirely new program on our own?

    The trick is to get a handful of laypeople with the capital and the know-how to get it done. Any takers?

  • P.S. I know the Christian Brothers run an insurance-type thing for a number of religious congregations. Maybe we should look at them, too, to see what the possibilities are.

  • “Big gov” vs “Big HMO’s” is a HUGE misunderstanding. The HMO was forced on America BY the US Congress.

    I think focusing on “ObamaCare” is not only foolish, but hands the victory over without contest. All argument about it has focused on public funding of abortion and euthanasia.

    The reality is that any kind of a government run system will make not only health insurance worse, but health care overall worse. America’s health care system is the envy of the world.

    The focus on abortion funding amounts to arguing over whether we should gut the best health care system in the world WITH abortion funding or WITHOUT it.

    That said, yes, health insurance SHOULD be divorced from employment, which is yet another reason government should be forced to stay out of it entirely.

    Government regulation is the entire reason that health insurance is employer based, and the reason that it is nearly impossible for people to find & get decent health insurance on their own.

    The root of the problems we see today are based in the fact that health care costs are ever increasing, while the “cure” is always new ways to try and hide the cost. There are a few alternative health plans out there (like that would actually start addressing some of the core problems that drive up the cost of health care, such as H.R. 3400.

    That’s not the only alternative bill out there, either. There have been more than 2 DOZEN health care proposals made in Congress & the Senate, all of which have been repeatedly buried because they have been Republican proposals that would not ruin the health care system in America by nationalizing it.

    Here are just a few:
    H.R. 77, H.R. 270, H.R. 502, H.R. 1086, H.R. 1118, H.R. 1441, H.R. 1468, H.R. 1658, H.R. 1891, H.R. 2520, H.R. 2607, H.R. 2785, H.R. 2786, H.R. 2787, H.R. 3356, H.R. 3372, H.R. 3400, H.R. 3454, …….

  • The idea of an organizational (Catholic Church) based insurance entity is very appealing to me as it could answer both the availability and affordability problems with health care today. Additionally, It could be a model of non-profit status and could lower administrative costs significantly if it were really treated as a new way of doing health care insurance.

    The availability solution could be built into the plan’s charter with no pre-existing exclusion and open enrollment.

    How it charges for coverage could also improve availability and level the playing field for individual buyers with group buyers. For example, right now groups are usually priced by the major health care companies on the basis of an employee census as to age. Then the health care company may apply certain actuarial credits to reflect wellness programs, etc. or in some cases just to be competitive. The rate then is averaged and the 25 year old pays the same as the 62 year old in terms of what comes out of their pay. If the same 25 year old got individual coverage they would pay probably 10% of what the 64 year old pays. The new group could work the same way as a large group plan works now and eliminate or ameliorate the built in old age “tax” of individual coverage. Just as an aside, this may seem unfair to the 25 year old, but they will reap the benefits as they age much like social security.

    More importantly non-profit status would allow cost savings and with a new entity costs could be cut significantly with real simplification of contracts and no or little paperwork. As it grows in size it would be able to really negotiate with providers to lower costs which are currently sacred cows to government (because of lobbying) and major health companies because of kickbacks and deals (sorry if it sounds paranoid, but it is real life). An example would be prescription drug costs – if Canada can do it the new group should be able to also if it can stay independent.
    THE OTHER SIDE
    Unfortunately, there is a lot working against the idea. Some of the problems have been mentioned above as cultural within the church but there are some other things that could hurt on a macro basis.

    To be really effective and wring costs out of the system the current employer based system would have to be replaced largely with an individual based system. This creates some substantial problems as a large portion of the workforce is not going to take kindly to losing these benefits. Longer term this may become more viable as more and more employers are dropping or reducing benefits but the last holdouts may be the government sponsored autoworker unions.

    The current health insurance companies may not be overjoyed at this prospect either. At first the new group would probably have to use the current markets unless they are capitalized in some different form and can work out their own discounts with healthcare providers. Eventually, though, they will know that they are going to be removed from the equation. I suspect they will put up many roadblocks.

    The government could also be a major hurdle as there could be some definite constraints based on the “not invented here” concept. We’ve seen how this works when government forms an insurance carrier and does not allow competition such as Workers Compensation Insurance in several states such as Ohio.

    To be really effective there would also have to be a few other things that may only be able to come from government such as mandatory coverage and Tort Reform (assuming this can be done without being overturned by the Supreme Court). Additionally, regulations would have to be changed to allow for interstate operations and possibly establishment of specialized insurance entities.

    Overall, I like the idea and it is something that I have suggested before although not in the context of a faith based group. It is a major alternative to government plans and could eliminate much of the inflated medical costs that are overburdening us now. Real life, though, is that it has some significant hurdles and few real advocates.

  • Thanks Paul for the detailed consideration- I am hoping against hope that instead of having our church and the bishops taking a position of negativity toward the inevitable government “reform” of health care coverage, we should take the bull by the horns and provide an alternative that doesn’t require government takeovers or bow to the powerful private for-profit interests – you overcome evil with good, not mere rhetorical complaint.

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