Diversity & Disparities

Care of the Poor

As part of its faithfulness to the teachings of the Catholic Church, Catholic health care embraces the church's social justice teachings. Key among those commitments is what the church calls, "the preferential option for the poor." That option is expressed in the U.S. Catholic Bishops 1986 pastoral letter on Catholic social teaching and the U.S. economy. Entitled "Economic Justice for All," it states:

"As individuals and as a nation. . . we are called to make a fundamental "option for the poor. The obligation to evaluate social and economic activity from the viewpoint of the poor and the powerless arises from the radical command to love one's neighbor as one's self. Those who are marginalized and whose rights are denied have privileged claims if society is to provide justice for all. This obligation is deeply rooted in Christian belief."

The bishops also outline Catholic health care's obligations to model Jesus' love for the poor in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The introduction to "Part One" of the document cites specific expectations around care of the poor, noting:

"The biblical mandate to care for the poor requires us to express this in concrete action at all levels of Catholic health care. This mandate prompts us to work to ensure that our country's health care delivery system provides adequate health care for the poor. In Catholic institutions, particular attention should be given to the health care needs of the poor, the uninsured, and the underinsured.

And Directive 3 states:

"In accord with its mission, Catholic health care should distinguish itself by service to and advocacy for those people whose social condition puts them at the margins of our society and makes them particularly vulnerable to discrimination: the poor; the uninsured and the underinsured; children and the unborn; single parents; the elderly; those with incurable diseases and chemical dependencies; racial minorities; immigrants and refugees. In particular, the person with mental or physical disabilities, regardless of the cause or severity, must be treated as a unique person of incomparable worth, with the same right to life and to adequate health care as all other persons."

Poverty is not just the absence of wealth. It feeds prejudice, discrimination, and injustice. Additionally, although "uninsured" and "poor" are not synonyms — one doesn't have to be poor to lack health care coverage — there are distinct relationships between being uninsured and poverty.