A life or death matter

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Several weeks ago, the Catholic diocese testified in support of a bill that would remove annual and lifetime caps from health insurance policies in Maine.

Some people question why a religious group such as the Catholic Church would be speaking out on what appears to be a technical and legal insurance issue. The explanation is simple.  The Catholic Church has long promoted social and economic justice and this is clearly a justice issue.

We bring our faith principles to the public square in an effort to enrich the debate over fundamental policy issues such as health care, which is a basic human right. A common theme in both the old and the new testaments that is core to the Jewish and Christian faiths is the concept of our communal responsibility to care for and protect one another. To ignore our neighbor in times of dire need — in this case, those who are so sick and whose health insurance benefits have run out and thus risk losing their home, their retirement, child’s ability to attend college, or their life’s savings — runs contrary to this principle.

Insurance provides the opportunity to assure that all of us will be adequately cared for in times of accident or illness, even in times when the cost of necessary medical services would far exceed our own private resources.

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This is possible because common to all insurance programs is the concept of spreading the risk (cost) among all policyholders. Those who are healthy in essence subsidize those who are very sick and are costing the system significant expense. We do this knowing full well that some day it could just as easily be you or me who need expensive treatment.

This isn’t just a good business plan, but it is a just system that recognizes that health care is a fundamental human right that can never be rationed or withheld due to anyone’s lack of resources.

LD 1620, would assure that health insurance policies issued in Maine are free of both lifetime and annual limits on the amount of money insurers will pay for an individual’s care.

Unfortunately, there are policies being issued in Maine at this time that have lifetime caps of $500,000, $1 million, or even $3 million.

For the great majority of us, thank God, we will never reach these limits. However, there are a few of us with health conditions, such as cancer or heart disease, who could exceed those caps in as quickly as a few years.

For them life becomes a nightmare. Not only do they face the challenges of what most often is a life-threatening condition, but they also face financial ruin. Homes have gone into foreclosure, autos repossessed and bankruptcies declared as a result.

That isn’t just nor is it reasonable.

Insurers tell us the cost of removing those caps would result in an increase of about 0.2 percent to our premiums.  That may be about the price of a cup of coffee a month — a small price to pay when you are considering it is truly a life and death matter for some.

Some would argue that any increase in these times is too much. Again we disagree. The cost of not doing anything, especially in these times, is far greater.

The Most Reverend Bishop Richard J. Malone, Th.D. is bishop of the diocese of Portland.

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