Catholic leaders urge bipartisan health reform, differ on time frame

By Nancy Frazier O’Brien/Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — As the head of the Catholic Health Association expressed hope that President Barack Obama’s health care summit would “move health care reform closer to completion,” the leaders of a group of Catholic physicians called on Congress to scrap the current legislative proposals and start over.

“The American people are tired of partisan bickering and want lawmakers to find common ground toward creating a stronger, more equitable health care system,” said Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is CHA president and CEO.

“The current window of opportunity is small, which is why we encourage summit participants and other key leaders to move from argument and misinformation to consensus and collaboration — now,” she added in a Feb. 23 statement.

But the president and executive director of the Catholic Medical Association said in an open letter to Obama and members of Congress Feb. 23 that “the most responsible course of action” at this time would be “to pause, reflect and then begin the legislative process anew, working in a more deliberate and bipartisan manner.”

“It is more important that health care reform be done right than to finish the legislative process by a date certain,” said Dr. Leonard P. Rybak, president, and John F. Brehany, executive director of the association of U.S. Catholic physicians.

A Feb. 25 summit convened by Obama was to bring together key members of Congress from both parties and government officials to discuss an 11-page proposal unveiled by the president Feb. 22.

Obama’s proposal would amend the Senate-passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to reflect “policies from the House-passed bill and the president’s priorities,” according to a White House fact sheet.

No specific legislative language was released, but a summary of the president’s plan makes no mention of abortion or health care for immigrants — two of the highest priorities mentioned repeatedly by leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in messages to Congress.

Although the House-passed bill was amended to exclude abortion funding, the Senate version was not. Neither bill meets the USCCB’s criteria for providing health care coverage to immigrants.

A poll released Feb. 23 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the nation is evenly split on current health reform legislation, with 43 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed. Three percent said it “depends on which proposal,” and the rest said they did not know or refused to answer.

Asked what they think Congress should do now about health reform, 32 percent said lawmakers should “move soon to pass the comprehensive legislation” already passed by the House and Senate; 22 percent said they should stop working on it now and take it up later this year; 20 percent said they should “pass a few provisions where there is broad agreement”; and 19 percent said they should stop working on health care reform this year.

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