A Flawed Step Forward on Health-Care Reform

By Jim Wallis 3-19-2010

100211_091022-086-health-careWe all know how much the media love conflict, and they have fallen in love with the health-care debate. Yesterday's New York Times story on the final House vote expected this weekend simply said, "Showdown Near." That says it all about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral on whether and how to reform the nation's health-care system.

To say the process hasn't been pretty would be one of the biggest Washington understatements in years. And the bill isn't pretty either. It is neither the government takeover of health care that the Republicans charge, nor one that will cover all Americans as Democrats have claimed. Rather, it is the expansion of our broken health-care system to 30 million people who presently don't have health-care coverage, and includes some important changes in the present system (like eliminating the infamous "pre-existing conditions" clause and a few other egregious insurance company practices to deny coverage); but it falls far short of the goal of "comprehensive health-care reform" which was the hope and the stated intent at the beginning. The Congressional Budget Office predicts the bill being voted on will have a positive impact in the deficit, but the cost containment could have been far greater if more comprehensive reform hadn't been effectively blocked by an enormous legion of special interests who have sought to protect the status quo.

On the issue of health care and abortion; many leaders on the "pro-life" side (including the Catholic Hospital Association, a large group of Catholic sisters, and several evangelicals -- including me -- have analyzed the bills and concluded that the language of the Senate bill on abortion (that will be operative in the new legislation) does adequately protect the principle enshrined into law by the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the federal funding of elective abortion. Others, including the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops oppose the bill because they still believe it doesn't go far enough. But many have pointed out that the provision of health care for millions more women and children will itself be a strong pro-life measure that will reduce abortions, and this bill specifically provides critically needed support for pregnant women.

So despite the very flawed health-care bill coming up for a vote this weekend, and the even more flawed processes that we will witness during its debate and vote, I believe (as does Sojourners) that something is better than nothing, and that this bill will hopefully be only the beginning of a process, and a first step toward comprehensive health-care reform. We simply cannot walk away from the 30 million people without health-care coverage who would benefit from this bill. And it is absolutely clear to us that simply doing nothing and letting the opportunity pass once again for beginning to reform the health-care system is a formula for everyone's health care getting worse -- more people being uninsured, higher premiums for those with insurance, continually diminishing benefits for us all, more family bankruptcies, and more people literally dying without proper health care.

So for these three reasons: insuring 30 million people more, including some important health-care system reforms, and the abysmal alternative to having no bill -- Sojourners is supporting the passage of health-care reform and we suggest that if you agree, you should contact your elected Representatives before the weekend and ask them to vote yes on health-care reform. Then let us go out and build the kind of social movements that would have the capacity to make reform bills like this one much, much, better in the future.

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.

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