Acton Commentary

Health reform threatens voluntary charitable action


As the health care debate moves to the U.S. Senate, much of the news coverage and commentary in recent days has focused on the advocacy of Catholic bishops and how their support of Rep. Bart Stupak’s amendment to prohibit the use of tax dollars to fund abortion was a major victory for the pro-life side. The bishops urged the House of Representatives, through local parishes and in a Nov. 6 letter, to ensure that “needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all." All people of good will, all those who value human life and dignity, should cheer this development.

But there’s more to this health care juggernaut that should give us reason to oppose it in its present form. We should all firstly be concerned with the vast expansion of government reach into the private lives of millions of Americans under the proposal put forward by this administration and its supporters in Congress.

This “reform” will create a system that will put bureaucrats in charge of personal health care decisions -- not doctors. It will give the federal government an avenue to nationalize more than 15 percent of the U.S. economy, thus putting bureaucrats and elected officials in the role of manager and regulator -- much as we’ve seen in banking and automobiles. Amazingly, with the push for a $1 trillion plus health care package and the attendant debt, we may soon see Canada with lower government spending (as a percent of GDP) on heath care than the United States! All this, too is a threat to human dignity.

What will this heavy burden of government spending and regulation have on U.S. health care innovation and competitiveness, which has to date pioneered so many advances? How many medical research and development firms would leave our shores under threat of higher taxes and increased regulation?

All the assurances we’ve been getting from President Obama that health care reform will not add “even one dime to our deficit over the next decade” seem more fantastic with every passing day. A new report shows that projected Medicaid cuts, on which rests much of the financial funding for health care reform, would prove to be so onerous to hospitals and nursing homes that they would simply stop taking such patients altogether. The report, by the chief actuary for Medicare and Medicaid, also questions how doctors and hospitals would cope with an additional 30 million people added to the ranks of the insured, many of them into public health programs.

As it’s been said many times, if you think health care is expensive, wait until it’s free.

I also worry about the “crowding out” effect that this vast expansion of the government into health care will have on voluntary charitable action. Somewhere along the line we have lost sight of the fact that charity and health care was not an invention of Washington bureaucrats. How did the more than 600 Catholic hospitals and clinics, and many more hospitals bearing the names Jewish, Presbyterian, Methodist, Adventist and Baptist, get built in this country? It wasn’t through the sufferance of government. Faith is the source of these works, not policy initiatives. Faith, because it involves the entire scope of the human person, body and soul, has not only a larger claim on our allegiance but a deeper commitment to our well being. Our faith communities know us as persons, not as welfare case numbers or voting blocs.

And what effect on future generations will this massive expansion of government into the private sector, and a vast increase in federal debt, have on future generations? The effect is unknown, but if the experience of other countries is any guide, it will lay a crushing burden on the lives of future generations.

Recall the words of Edmund Burke who understood community as a social “partnership,” a bond that spans many generations, past and future. “It becomes a partnership not only between those who are living,” he wrote, “but between those who are dead and those who are to be born.”

The health care reform package that is now before the Senate should be scrapped. It is an ill-conceived plan that will break the budget, provide fewer opportunities for market-driven solutions in health care, and will constrain those who want to practice real charity. Back to the drawing board.