While South Africa is considering and planing for a new Health care insurance system which would give its citizens more possibilities to use health care in a dignified and fair way, the same has already happened in the USA. After long battles a new health care policy is in place and more US Americans are able to get access to health care facilities and the right treatment independent of their financial background.
It is interesting to see, that despite several changes in the act, the US American Catholic Bishops Conference is still fighting the plan, as it includes family planing. To recap: In January 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services issued its mandate as part of the health care reform law that contraceptive care, such as prescriptions for birth control pills, must be fully covered as part of any insurance plan. Some religious organizations are exempt from this rule, but a number of Catholic groups say those exemptions are not enough. While the bishops have continued to oppose the mandate, other Catholic groups, such as the Catholic Health Association, have said the administration has addressed their concerns in the revisions. According to the last version of the federal mandate, which the administration released June 28, any organization that self-certifies as a nonprofit religious group with religious objections to contraceptive coverage can defer coverage of contraceptives to a separate health insurance issuer. The administration “has now established an accommodation that will allow our ministries to continue offering health insurance plans for their employees as they have always done,” the Catholic Health Association’s president, Sr. Carol Keehan, said after the release of the last version of the mandate. The organization, which describes itself as the largest group of nonprofit health care providers in the nation, comprises more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in the USA.
Well, the bishops see it differently:
The Bishop heading the commission dealing with the national health care act, Cardinal Dolan even goes so far that the bishops are concerned that the mandate does not cover for-profit businesses run by individuals who may oppose certain contraceptive services. In essence what he is saying is: If I have a company with hundreds of employees and I have certain religious conviction, then I am entitled to enforce them for all working in my company, even if they don’t share this convictions and they are irrelevant to the work they are doing. It would in practice mean that a Witness of Jehovah Shop owner can exclude blood transfusion for his employees. It is interesting to see whether such an argument will hold for the future of the bill, and especially on a topic which is since the introduction of Humanae vitae never fully adopted by practicing Catholics and even questioned in its rigidity by Bishops around the world. During the debate phrases like “protecting the freedom of religion” were used and the treat of the end of religious liberty put onto the map.
It has to be seen what the debate in South Africa holds in store when it comes to the point, what services should be included in a new Health Insurance Policy, there are surely interesting times ahead also for us here in South Africa. But it is to hope that at the end, the fundamental right of every citizen to health care according to each and every-bodies conscience prevails. Informed decisions like it has been long introduced in the sector of HIV and AIDS and TB and cancer therapies. The church has a right to enter into such a debate but must also acknowledge that its belief cannot be binding to all citizens regardless of their faith. This trickles down from the nation to single companies where the freedom to choose health care services must be balanced against the conscience of the company owner. We as the church can advocate what we belief is right, but never force democratic nations or people to follow.