US bishops to vote on creating health care subcommittee

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The United States bishops will vote in November on whether to establish a Subcommittee on Health Care Issues.

The subcommittee was proposed by the conference’s Committee on Priorities and Plans, led by conference secretary Bishop George V. Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Ohio.

The bishops will vote on the subcommittee, which would fall under the doctrine committee, at their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Md., to be held Nov. 14-16.

Creation of a permanent subcommittee was recommended by a three-year task force on health care issues that held its last meeting in June 2011.

The task force had been mandated to coordinate the activities of the bishops’ conference that relate to health care and to help decide what type of permanent structure would best address the various health care concerns that arise.

Among the issues that the task force addressed were guidance of the implementation of the bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, conscience protection and health care reform, non-Catholic hospitals within the Catholic health care system, for-profit Catholic health care and the canonical status of Catholic health care facilities.

The task force suggested that the Priorities and Plans Committee establish a permanent subcommittee to deal with ongoing health care concerns.

If approved, the subcommittee is expected to be composed of representatives from the U.S. bishops’ committees on canon law and church governance, doctrine, pro-life activities and domestic justice and human development.

The documentation provided to the bishops in advance of the November meeting stated that “members of the subcommittee could include bishops who represent the committees of the Conference that address various aspects of health care as well as consultants from organizations that relate to the health care ministry of the Church.”

The United States bishops have long called for health care reform, stressing the importance of “adequate and affordable health care for all.”

In recent years, health care in the United States has become a topic of heated discussion, especially in regard to abortion funding and rights of conscience.

The bishops criticized the health care reform bill passed during the 2010 session of Congress for failing to adequately ensure that taxpayer money would not be used to fund abortion. 

The bishops have also argued in favor of stronger conscience protection regulations for health care employees, to ensure that such workers are not required to participate in abortions if they morally object to doing so.

Recently, the bishops have spoken out strongly against a mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that would require almost all private health plans to cover sterilization procedures and contraceptives.

In a July 22 letter to Congress, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, criticized the mandate for forcing employers to choose between violating their moral convictions and ceasing to provide for the health care needs of their employees.

Such a choice, the cardinal said, “would be as much a threat to universal access to health care as it is to freedom of conscience.”

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