WASHINGTON (March 12, 2003) -- Calling the fact that one in seven Americans does not have health insurance "morally unacceptable," three national Catholic organizations are pressing Congress to increase access to affordable health care to the millions of uninsured in the United States.
In a letter to the leadership of the Senate and House Budget Committees, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Catholic Charities USA, and the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) urged Congress to dedicate at least $89 billion over the next 10 years to expand coverage for the uninsured, the amount set aside by President George W. Bush in his fiscal 2004 budget proposal.
"We consider access to adequate health care to be a basic human right, necessary for the development and maintenance of life and for the ability of human beings to realize the fullness of their dignity. A just society is one that protects and promotes the fundamental rights of its members – with special attention to meeting the basic needs of the poor and underserved, including the need for safe and affordable health care," wrote Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, of the Archdiocese of Washington, and chair of USCCB's Domestic Policy Committee, Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities USA, and Rev. Michael D. Place, STD, CHA's president and chief executive officer.
In their letter, which was copied to all members of the committees, the organizations also called on Congress to provide immediate fiscal relief to states for their Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which provide health coverage to millions of low-income adults and children. In dire fiscal straits, state and local governments are slashing their Medicaid and other health care budgets. "We urge Congress to act quickly to provide immediate relief for these programs and prevent the erosion of coverage to our most vulnerable beneficiaries," said the letter.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 42 million Americans did not have health insurance in 2001. Eight out of 10 were from working families. In most cases, the main wage earners in these families either had jobs that offered no health coverage or their premiums were unaffordable.
"People who lack health insurance are far less likely to receive basic health care services, and are generally in poorer health as a result," wrote Cardinal McCarrick, Fr. Place, and Fr. Hehir. "Studies show they delay seeking care even when in need of medical attention, do not fill prescriptions and have trouble paying medical bills. The uninsured have more difficulty obtaining primary care and access to essential medication, and have a higher rate of hospitalization for treatable conditions such as hypertension, asthma or diabetes.
The letter is available online at www.chausa.org/publicpo/030305Budget_Uninsured.pdf.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Domestic Policy Committee speaks for the U.S. bishops on health care and other social and economic programs. For more information, visit www.usccb.org.
The St. Louis-based Catholic Health Association of the United States is the national leadership organization of the Catholic health ministry, engaged in the strategic directions of mission, ethics, and advocacy. CHA's more than 2,000 members form the nation's largest group of not-for-profit health care sponsors, systems, facilities, health plans, and related organizations. For more information, visit the CHA Web site at www.chausa.org.
Catholic Charities USA's members—1,640 local agencies and institutions nationwide—provide help and create hope for more than seven million people a year regardless of religious, social, or economic backgrounds. For more than 275 years, local Catholic Charities agencies have been providing a myriad of vital services in their communities, ranging from day care and counseling to food and housing. For more information, visit www.catholiccharitiesinfo.org.