Being pro-life in the Catholic tradition means many things. Not only do we oppose the intentional destruction of life at any stage of development, we also support policies that encourage life such as access to health care and education. Thus, I support and encourage the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert to expand access to Medicaid in the state.
Providing adequate resources for all of the required state services in Utah is a difficult task. The Legislature annually wrestles with questions of how to fund quality public education for our children while also providing for current human services and other programs. But, while priorities may change from session to session, life and the dignity of life should always be guiding principles in any legislative decisions.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as construed by the U.S. Supreme Court, states have the option of expanding Medicaid to cover individuals who currently do not qualify for the program but are also unable to afford private coverage or participate in a health insurance exchange.
According to the Utah Department of Health, expansion could provide basic health care to 42,500 parents and 10,400 childless adults. Having Medicaid means these 52,900 Utahns would be able to see a doctor before any health issues spiral out of control. Preventive care and early diagnosis mean fewer emergency room visits, which lowers health care costs for all of us.
Expanding Medicaid not only helps those who receive coverage. Researchers in other states have found that expanding Medicaid will create significant numbers of new jobs in their states and reduce taxpayer costs associated with uninsured patients. The University of Montana, for example, suggested Medicaid expansion could create 14,000 new jobs in the state. University of Missouri researchers estimated it would add 24,008 new jobs in that state in 2014. Researchers in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and Washington have reached similar conclusions.
While the economics of expansion may be sensible, Catholic support for expansion does not rest on dollars and cents calculations. We support expansion because we believe that it is the role of government to foster the common good, which includes ensuring that all have access to what is needed to lead a truly human life. As Pope Benedict affirmed in 2010, an individual's health is a "precious asset" to society that government should seek to protect by "dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access."
The Catholic Church has long advocated for universal health care as a necessary requirement for preserving life and dignity, especially for the poor and immigrants who most often lack adequate care. All people need access to affordable, quality health care, regardless of where or whether they work, how much they earn, or where they live. No human being is expendable. A just and moral health care policy will reflect this truth by promoting preventive care and early treatment for all, rather than leaving the working poor to wait until their health becomes a medical emergency.
The Legislature and the governor work diligently to promote the common good. Expanding Medicaid to cover 52,900 uninsured adults will produce economic, moral, and social benefits for the state. Expansion also sends the powerful message that Utah protects and values human life.
John C. Wester is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.