Pope Francis observed last year that health “is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege.” He is not the first Pope to speak in those terms. In Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII identified health care as among the basic rights flowing from the dignity of the human person. In an address to the United Nations, Pope John Paul II included as among the human rights endorsed by the Catholic Church the right to sufficient health care. The American bishops have also been vocal in their stance that access to adequate health care is a basic right necessary for humans to realize the fullness of their dignity.
None of this is new, but this seems a good time for the reminder.
Congress is now at work in its efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Despite promises by the President that the Republican plan would have insurance for everyone that is better and less costly, it is becoming clear that the bill being considered would kick millions off of their health coverage and force many to pay more for less coverage. (It also, in the name of “choice” eliminates the requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services in states that expanded it.)
Lack of health insurance makes it virtually impossible for lower-income people to get health care. No insurance typically means choosing between medical care and other basic necessities. Thus, uninsured adults typically do no receive preventive care, fail to fill prescriptions and skip medications for chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes. Those who do get health care then have difficulty paying for food, heat or rent because of their medical bills. The very poorest of the poor have access to Medicaid, but how effective that will remain if the federal government shifts to a block grant approach is questionable.
The Affordable Care Act was no panacea. But whether you are Democrat or Republican, love the Affordable Care Act or hate it, if you are a Christian you can’t ignore the effect of any proposed legislation on the least of our brothers and sisters. We can disagree about specifics of approaches, but we cannot disagree about the need to ensure adequate access to health care.