October 1 marks the next big milestone in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act: The opening of state health insurance exchanges that will enable those currently uninsured or self-insured to shop for health care plans. (And no, the looming government shutdown isn't likely to stop the exchanges from opening.)
Unfortunately, there's still a fair amount of confusion about the law and what it means for Americans, both insured and uninsured. A poll last month found that 44 percent of Americans didn't even know if the Affordable Care Act was still law, with some mistakenly thinking it was struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress. It is hard to blame people for being so confused, considering all the political rhetoric and conflicting statements that have been thrown around by the media and politicians in the last couple of years.
For its part, the Catholic Church hasn't done much to help alleviate that confusion. For decades, the U.S. bishops have argued that health care is a basic human right and that providing health care coverage to all people is part of the church's teaching on the sanctity and dignity of human life. The bishops supported the Affordable Care Act in 2009, expressing concerns over certain portions of the legislation but working with Congress to revise the bill rather than to scrap it entirely. Since the law's passage, however, the bishops have spent the majority of their time fighting against the mandatory requirement for employer coverage of contraception under the ACA, without continuing to emphasize to the Catholic faithful that the church still supports the concept of universal health care coverage. With so much heated debate over the law, many Catholics could easily draw the conclusion that their church is against it, too.
Before praising or condemning the ACA based on rhetoric, every American should take the time to try to understand exactly how it will work and what the potential outcomes of the law's implementation will be. While there are certainly still flaws in the law or issues to be worked out, all this arguing about the Affordable Care Act has done nothing to help people actually understand how it works, or how it can benefit them.
That task has been left up to health care providers, including the many Catholic health systems around the country that are working with patients to help them navigate what the law will mean for them. The Catholic Health Association has also put out a good amount of information and resources, including the video below, to help Catholics learn more about the ACA. These efforts deserve more attention, but have for the most part flown under the radar when it comes to discussing the health care law.
Based on your politics, you may or may not think that the Affordable Care Act is the right way to fix the nation's troubled health care system. But for Catholics, the teaching that health care is a basic human right calls them to work toward a solution that will provide adequate, affordable health care to everyone. If the ACA fails, that means we need to find another way. But first we need to understand the law that's been passed and work together to try to make it better.
Image: © Maksym Dykha – Fotolia.com
Video courtesy of the Catholic Health Association