Catholic Bishops’ latest word on health care reform

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The USCCB’s Sept. 30 letter to U.S. senators on urrent health care reform legislation includes the following two sentences:

No health care reform plan should use federal dollars for abortion, or compel people to pay for or be involved in other people’s abortions. Longstanding federal laws governing other major health programs, including the health insurance program for federal employees, prevent federal funds from being used for abortions or to help purchase benefits packages that include abortions. (Italics in original)

That second sentence correctly states the facts: Since 1983 (except for 1993-94), the Federal Employees Health Benefits program has not permitted beneficiaries to choose health coverage plans that include abortion coverage. The question is whether the USCCB will oppose any health reform legislation that does not prohibit federal subsidies to help Americans purchase health insurance plans to which they can add an abortion rider, paid for by themselves.

The language of the letter can be interpreted to suggest that it will. Would this be consistent with the USCCB’s existing position? Not entirely. Take Medicaid, the federal health program for poor people. It does not cover abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. However, it does help purchase benefits packages that include abortion in the case of those states that supplement federal Medicaid by paying for abortion services out of their own funds. The USCCB does not oppose Medicaid as it stands. To the contrary. So will it oppose health care reform that permits individuals to do what states, under Medicaid, do now?