Many Catholics support “universal health care,” presumably wishing that no one be denied lifesaving (or more routine?) treatment because of a lack of money. The centuries-long history of Catholic hospitals is evidence of the Church heeding Christ’s call to care for the sick. When I read about the Good Samaritan picking up an assault victim and treating his wounds, though, I don’t usually think of failed websites, underpaid physicians, long lines, increasing government debt, and unemployment.
Yet, the current U.S. manifestation of “universal health care,” which has nonetheless received support from many prominent Catholics (sure, Sister Carol Keehan, but more orthodox folk as well), is Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Okay, perhaps some who advocate for universal health care mean something other than socialized, government-run medicine, but only someone well-versed in Catholic social thought would presume that the former is a distinct wider category than the latter. For the average person (and average voter) they’re synonymous. Which is why, whenever a criticism is offered of Obamacare, the critic is labeled heartless, in the pocket of Big Pharma, and contrary to eons of Catholic teaching.
So, with the understanding that I’ll be thusly labeled in the comments, let’s address the recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) publication that made headlines last week for its prediction of an Obamacare-caused reduction in the labor force by 2.5 million people (I almost said workers, but the labor force includes entrepreneurs and business owners too, who deserve equal dignity to what the Church advocates for workers. They will likely be affected as well as employees). Rely if you will on the analysis of others about the effects of the ACA, but why not go to the horse’s mouth?
“In CBO’s view, the ACA’s effects on labor supply will stem mainly from the following provisions, roughly in order of importance: the subsidies for health insurance purchased through exchanges; the expansion of eligibility for Medicaid; the penalties on employers that decline to offer insurance; and the new taxes imposed on labor income (p. 118).”
More quotes could be had. It’s no surprise to economists that socialized medicine, where buyers do not bear the full cost of treatment, results in distorted incentives. Of course, the current system of employer-provided health insurance has bad incentives of its own, mainly due to 1) health benefits being an untaxed form of compensation, which pushes people to buy insurance through their employer rather than like they do car insurance, and 2) the evolution of health insurance from covering only catastrophic or very costly procedures to covering virtually any procedure, no matter how inexpensive. When “insurance pays for it,” buyers overconsume.
But, those faults of the current system are easy enough to fix. They certainly do not warrant an overhaul creating a system of bureaucracy, top-down management, and manufactured shortages.
I’m curious if Catholics who support “universal health care” (lay or religious) are supportive of the ACA’s incentives which reduce people’s willingness to work. Is it charitable to support a program that encourages dependence on a (shrinking) group of workers? If the contraception mandate ever gets modified to our liking, will that pave the way for Catholic support of Obamacare, even if it pushes millions out of work? Is “universal health care” a goal that should be pursued even if it forces the country to go bankrupt? For as much as I get chastised for not respecting the Church’s high opinion of labor and work (because I consider managers, entrepreneurs, and CEOs to be people too), I find it odd that many Catholics support the latest manifestation of socialized medicine that unsurprisingly reduces the incentive to work.