Health care reform now or never?

By Megan Sweas| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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Today's bipartisan meeting on health care reform at the White House had Americans wondering if it was all a show or if the (small d) democratic process of debate and give-and-take is still possible.

The live-stream from the White House cut off frequently for me today, but bits and pieces that I did hear seemed to hear the Democrats saying that we all agree this is a huge problem, and the Republicans saying but we don't agree that/how we want to solve it. Indeed, 19 percent of lawmakers want to be done with health care this year, CNS reports, and CNN reports today 25 percent of Americans wants Congress to stop working on it. It'd be interesting to see if this differed by party. The significant fact here, though, is that 75 percent of Americans want health care reform.

At the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering a few weeks ago, the presenters for the session on health care proposed four options for going forward: reconciliation of the bills, push through some piecemeal bills, have some sort of paradigm-shifting moment (today?), or start over. Not one of their options: dump reform.

Is starting over possible? The CSMG crowd didn't seem to think so, even chuckling at that suggestion. The CNN poll, however, found that 48 percent of Americans want Congress to start over, as does the Catholic Medical Association.

With an election coming up and knowing how long it took for us to get to this point, I don't have much confidence that Congress can come up with a completely new--and more appealing--plan. "Start over" seems like "give up" to me. Weren't we forced to start over on health care reform in the 1990s?

But not starting over means compromise. While abortion is the No. 1 issue for Catholics, the presenter at the CSMG pointed out that in reconciliation, the abortion amendment is just one small piece of a vast bill with many issues to smooth out. Indeed the president's plan for reconciliation doesn't comment on abortion, CNS reports.

The bishops remain solidly in the middle--or maybe just torn and confused--on the future of reform. At the beginning of the USCCB's letter to Congressional leaders, the bishops say, "It is time to set aside partisan divisions and special interest pressures to find ways to enact genuine reform." But they conclude with much more caution: "Dialogue should continue and no legislation should be finalized until and unless these basic moral criteria [affordability and access for all, prohibitions on abortion funding, upholding conscience rights, and addresses needs of immigrants] are met."

The magazine has learned its mistake in the 1990s, when it didn't cover the health care debate because the editors were sure reform was just around the corner. We're interviewing Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, tomorrow. Perhaps we've finally grown a bit more cynical in our 75th year, but we do hold out hope that the situation will be different by the time the interview appears in the May issue of U.S. Catholic magazine, even if it renders our article irrelevant.

Thankfully, we'll post parts of the interview online in a timelier manner. In the meantime, I pose one of the questions we'll ask Keehan to our readers: Has the bipartisan meeting given you hope that we might achieve reform?