|Gov. Bill Haslam at a press conference in December announced plans to expand health insurance coverage to some of the most low-income Tennessee residents. Bishop Choby and Saint Thomas Health officials, who were on hand for the announcement, praised the plan to expand health care coverage to the poor and vulnerable. State of Tennessee photo by Jed DeKalb
Gov. Bill Haslam has called upon people of good will to support his plan to meet the medical needs of more than 200,000 of our fellow Tennesseans. His plan, called Insure Tennessee, will use funds set aside by the federal government for our state, and contributions by Tennessee’s hospitals, to provide health coverage to individuals who are now uninsured.
For Catholics, as for our neighbors from other religious traditions, his call resonates strongly with the compassionate teachings of our faith. His plan fully deserves serious consideration.
Our duty to care for our brothers and sisters is never more compelling than when they are sick or injured. To teach us compassion, Christ chose the parable of the Good Samaritan, who not only personally cared for an injured traveler, but who paid others to care for him as well. The parable warned us not to be like others who ignored the person in need, assuming that someone else would care for him.
Our uninsured neighbors have great needs. Even if they are in good health, they carry the burden of knowing that a single accident or injury can force them into bankruptcy, destroying their dreams for their families. They go without preventive care. When they get sick, they wait until their condition worsens before seeking treatment. Many have untreated chronic illnesses that threaten their ability to work and earn a living for their families.
Like the traveler whom the Good Samaritan helped, the uninsured are right before our eyes, and we dare not turn away. Most are working at low wage jobs. They include the people we see every day on the street, in our houses of worship, and at the grocery store. They are typically employed in the hospitality industry, in food service, as child care workers and in construction. They are struggling young musicians and college students. Many work in health industries in which they care for others. Some find themselves unable to work full time due to the cumulative physical effects of decades of heavy manual labor, yet they cannot get Medicare until they are 65.
The Church’s teachings on the sanctity of all human life and the importance of fairness to workers guide Catholics’ response to Gov. Haslam’s call. American bishops have repeatedly expressed the principle that decent health care is not a privilege, but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person. Pope John Paul II included access to healthcare in a list of those necessities of life that all workers should receive.
These are Catholic teachings, but they are also Tennessee values: concern for fairness, for our neighbors, and for our community. Gov. Haslam has taken a significant step forward with his proposal to expand the availability of healthcare. We urge legislators to fulfill their responsibility as the elected representatives of the people of Tennessee to offer access to healthcare as broadly as possible.