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Catholic bishop gives his support to governor's Healthy Utah plan

John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, discusses the Healthy Utah Plan at the State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.
John C. Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, discusses the Healthy Utah Plan at the State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Access to health care "is imperative to protect human life and dignity," Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake said in a statement issued Saturday afternoon.

The statement comes as the Utah Legislature continues to consider the respective merits of Gov. Gary Herbert's alternative to Medicaid expansion called Healthy Utah, a Senate alternative limited to the medically frail now called Utah Care or taking no action this session.

"Each plan has its own merits and costs. Consistent with Catholic teaching, the critical elements of these bills ensure that the needs of the poor are prioritized, that the dignity of work is promoted, and that we protect the sanctity of life. For these reasons, I choose to support the Healthy Utah plan," Wester's statement said.

Wester acknowledges in the statement that people of good will may disagree to support his decision to support Healthy Utah.

But he called on Utah Catholics to study the issue and get involved in the political process.

"While it may make us uncomfortable at times, we are required to speak in the public square and be a voice for the poor, the marginalized and the voiceless. Tens of thousands of Utahns will be impacted by the health care debate," the statement said.

"I urge you to seek out factual information from reliable sources, take some time to prayerfully consider the options, and contact your state legislator to encourage him or her to support your Catholic point of view."

Every Sunday in Catholic parishes, prayers are offered for the sick. Friends and family pray for their ill loved ones at least daily, the statement notes.

"Yet many of the people we pray for will find it nearly impossible to get well unless they have adequate health insurance."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear, the statement says.

“Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good. Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment and social assistance.”

Catholic doctrine also explains that government must “make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life . . .”

Late last week, Herbert took tax increases for his Healthy Utah alternative off the table and cut the duration of the pilot to two years from three years in an attempt to address GOP lawmakers' concerns but House Republicans have not committed to an approach.

House GOP leaders say Republicans have concerns about setting up a Medicaid expansion program to help low-income Utahns obtain health care coverage and then taking it away.

Wester asked Catholics to urge lawmakers to vote in manner that protects the sanctity and dignity of life for thousands of Utahns.

"God has no hands but ours. Our prayers matter, as do our actions in solidarity with the poor," the statement says.