This article appears in the Spring 2013 issue of PCC’s Viewpoint newsletter.
Catholic health care has been part of the Pennsylvania landscape since the first religious sisters bravely traveled to the New World to aid sick and vulnerable colonists in Philadelphia. With faith and perseverance, they overcame religious persecution, discrimination and a scarcity of resources to establish a wide network of care and concern for people in need. Successors of these early health care providers now offer a continuum of care to three million Pennsylvanians across the Commonwealth each year.
Fifty years ago, Pennsylvania’s Catholic hospitals formed an advocacy organization in Harrisburg. The group evolved to include nursing homes, health systems and other Catholic providers. Now it is known as the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association (PCHA).
PCHA is a catalyst that enables the Catholic health ministry to continue and strengthen its vital role as Christ’s healing presence in the mission of the Church and communities served. The association provides a unified voice on public policy at the state level. PCHA’s advocacy is geared toward three key areas:
- Access to basic, quality health care for all.
- Protecting the integrity and conscience of Catholic health care providers, Catholic employers, Catholic-affiliated insurers and others.
- Advocating for life and the dignity of the human person in health care policy.
PCHA has accomplished significant legislative advancements. Looking forward we see that threats to our mission remain.
THEN: PCHA helped to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1992, providing access to health insurance for thousands of families earning too much for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance. In 2001, Pennsylvania implemented its AdultBasic health insurance program from the proceeds of the state’s tobacco settlement. The program grants access to health care for thousands of uninsured adults.
NOW: Funding for CHIP and AdultBasic will be debated in the state budget. The need is great, but resources are limited. Access to health care for the uninsured remains a priority issue. [Send a message to your legislators urging support those in dire need in the state budget.]
THEN: The Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act became law in 2002 applying the “compelling state interest” standard to state government actions that place a burden on religious liberty. In 2007, legislation that would have mandated Catholic hospitals to administer abortifacient emergency contraception to sexual assault victims was soundly defeated. PCHA successfully negotiated for regulations that respect the conscience of religious health care providers.
NOW: Threats to religious liberty have escalated. PCHA and others are fighting to repeal the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion causing drugs in employee health plans. [Send a message to the president and our Congressional representatives in support of religious liberty.]
THEN: The Advance Directive for Health Care Act was amended in 2006 to provide for living wills and advance health care directives and special emphasis for life-sustaining treatment. [Read more about advance directives and living wills and download the free form for yourself and loved ones.]
NOW: Discussions are underway in Pennsylvania about another form of advance directive called POLST or physician’s orders for life sustaining treatment. PCHA is representing the pro-life and religious liberty concerns as the issue is debated.