I agree with most Americans that we need healthcare reform. As I travel around the country helping hospitals implement best practices in their patient safety programs, it is clear to me our present system has some major flaws. Costs, for everyone involved, spiral upward every year - yet most hospitals are “break even” businesses at best. In many states, more than half the hospitals are in the “red” and others limp by with 1% profit margins. And, too many of us don’t have access to the care we need.
Further, as a Christian and man of faith I would argue that, as a matter of responding to our moral imperative to take care of our fellow man, ensuring access to quality health care is a proper role for government and consistent with biblical teaching.
But, in their rush to reform healthcare as we know it, and in the face of growing opposition to their 1000 page bill, I believe Congress has created a reform package that needs serious rework. Here’s why.
First, Congress has rejected every amendment to protect the consciences of medical providers- doctors and nurses who, respecting the tenets of their faith, would choose not to participate in providing abortions or “end of life services.”
I do not argue with the right of patients to seek such services if they desire, nor the provision of those services by healthcare professionals who wish to provide them. But, I believe it to be unfair to make our nation’s physicians and nurses violate their conscience and their first amendment rights, or to make them choose between their faith and their careers.
Over the years I have worked with many Catholic hospitals and systems. Catholic facilities constitute 13% of our nation’s hospitals. How will these faith based institutions be affected by the current bill? Will the bill, as is, force them to perform such procedures? What percentage of them would choose to close rather than violate the tenets of their faith?
I have also seen first hand how Catholic systems take care of the poor and unemployed. What will be the effect on this safety net? Will government run healthcare be able to take up the slack?
Second, medical mistakes and errors. As I look at the error rates in single payer, government run systems around the world, the numbers of adverse outcomes due to medical mistakes seem to be on the rise - not decreasing. In the U.K, France, and Switzerland, for example, recent studies showing the effect of errors on their healthcare system are startling. I don’t see anything in this bill (like the FAA mandate of CRM training for the airlines) that really addresses the potential for an increase in error.
My next concern is fiscal responsibility. The Congressional Budget Office says the bill now in Congress would add $1 trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years. While we should move forward on reform, the process should consider the cost to our nation and future generations. What can we afford? What other programs should be cut? How can we, as a country, live within our means?
I don’t profess to have the answer to what healthcare reform should look like and how we should pay for it. But I do want reform. However, a bill that violates freedom of conscience, erodes the dignity of human life, or leads to a budget busting government takeover of healthcare is not the reform we need.