USCCB News Release
January 23, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Bishops Urge Congress to Improve and Expand Children's Health Insurance Program
WASHINGTON—National efforts to provide health care coverage should be improved and expanded, said Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Bishop Murphy called access to adequate health care a "basic human right" and protector of both human life and dignity in a letter to both houses of Congress.
"We strongly support significant increased funding to provide health care coverage to millions more low-income children, reducing the number of uninsured children by nearly half," Bishop Murphy said. "The legislation should maintain and expand coverage, reduce enrollment barriers, and expand outreach."
Bishop Murphy encouraged Congress to codify the option of having the term "child" extend to the period between conception and birth, which is already observed in 13 states. "This move would allow states to retain choice and flexibility in how best to provide essential health services to pregnant women and children," he said. "Access to prenatal care will allow more children to be born in good health, without a need for more extensive and expensive medical intervention."
Bishop Murphy also expressed support for covering legal immigrant children and legal immigrant pregnant women by allowing states to cover children regardless of their date of entry into the country. He cited this as "the right thing to do" and noted its support from members of both parties. He added: "We urge your active and strong support for a children's health bill that respects the roles of families and protects the lives and health of our nation's children."
The letter was dated January 14, the same day the House of Representatives voted to pass SCHIP legislation. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation next week.
FULL TEXT of the letter follows:
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has worked persistently to support and strengthen the nation's vital efforts to provide adequate and affordable health care, especially to the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. We have encouraged Congress to strengthen, expand and improve the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). We believe Congress has a unique opportunity and the responsibility to improve the program and garner strong bipartisan support by enacting significant legislation that affirms the life and dignity of all.
We strongly support significant increased funding to provide health care coverage to millions more low-income children, reducing the number of uninsured children by nearly half. The legislation should maintain and expand coverage, reduce enrollment barriers, and expand outreach.
We are convinced the bill should also be improved in ways that will strengthen and increase support for SCHIP. In 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services improved SCHIP by allowing states to interpret the word "child" in the statute to include the period from conception to birth. Thirteen states (AR, CA, IL, LA, MA, MI, MN, OK, RI, TN, TX, WA, WI) have already chosen to provide health care to pregnant women and their unborn children under this regulatory option (Congressional Research Service, Revised Memorandum on Estimates of SCHIP Child and Adult Enrolees, 5/30/08).
It would be important and very helpful if the renewal of SCHIP were improved by codifying this option in health care for the pregnant mother and her child in the womb. This move would allow states to retain choice and flexibility in how best to provide essential health services to pregnant women and children. Access to prenatal care will allow more children to be born in good health, without a need for more extensive and expensive medical intervention. States will be able to choose improved coverage for unborn children and their mothers, without being required to expand state funding for abortions which would be especially tragic in a program dedicated to the lives and health of children. We will work throughout the legislative process to urge the addition of this crucial and necessary provision. We also support efforts at state and federal levels to insure that the state SCHIP plans do not promote or fund abortion or ignore parental rights to secure needed health care for their children in ways that do not violate their moral or religious convictions. This is an issue of equity as well as human life and freedom of conscience.
We also support coverage for legal immigrant children and legal immigrant pregnant women by allowing states to cover children regardless of their date of entry into the country. During the immigration debate we heard much about how legal immigrants came "the right way" and enrich and contribute to our economy and society. Restoration of health coverage access to legal immigrants is the right thing to do, and has been supported by members of Congress from both parties.
Catholic teaching affirms the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and the inherent dignity of every human being. We insist that access to adequate health care is 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 protects and promotes fundamental human rights and dignity, with special attention to the basic needs of children and the vulnerable, including the need for safe and affordable health care. Our laws and programs should not arbitrarily exclude a whole sector of children, namely the unborn and their mothers.
Congress has a moral responsibility and an unprecedented opportunity to advance a children's health initiative that expands needed coverage and respects and affirms life and dignity for all. Congress should agree on a strong and effective bill that can be enacted into law – a law that assures continued coverage for children currently enrolled in SCHIP, enrolls eligible but uninsured children as soon as possible, includes codification of the "unborn child provision" and ensures that more children are born in good health. We urge your active and strong support for a children's health bill that respects the roles of families and protects the lives and health of our nation's children. If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Most Reverend William F. Murphy
Bishop of Rockville Centre
Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops