Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops

Press conference remarks by Rob Tasman, Executive Director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Good morning, my name is Rob Tasman. I am serving as the Executive Director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, a statewide organization that represents all eight Catholic bishops in the state. We have seven dioceses in the state and we have an additional auxiliary bishop in the city of New Orleans. The Catholic Church, as many of you well know, has been involved in healthcare, essentially, since its inception. Whether it's through the various ministries that it provides, clinics, hospitals, but also through advocacy.
Most recently in 2009, the bishops of this state of Louisiana issued a statement of support of healthcare reform and essentially said that healthcare is not merely a privilege, but is a basic human right. That’s guided by a number of principles. So, from the start, let’s make one thing clear. When things take place at a capital, whether it’s here in Baton Rouge in the state of Louisiana or the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC, those policies and decisions represent priorities. And those priorities help us to be able to look through a lens as to what the moral consciousness is of those who are making those decisions. That is critically important.
That is where we come in. So as I’m privileged to represent the voice of the Catholic bishops in the state, the Catholic Church is privileged to represent the voice of the voiceless. Those who are on the margins. Those who are poor. Those who need some sort of assistance and cannot speak for themselves. Whether its because they are occupied in trying to maintain employment to support themselves for their family or simply because in some way they have been done an injustice, they are silenced and simply not listened to.
So within our teaching, we have seven themes of Catholic social teaching, I think two are very pertinent to this issue. One of which, of course, is the foundational theme of  the life and dignity of the human person. This is a life issue. Access and affordability within the realm of healthcare is a life issue. Some may even say, and I would agree, watch your rhetoric and watch the words that you use. It is a life or death issue. So in 2013, when the state had the opportunity to accept Medicaid expansion, we fully supported that effort. And we certainly share in the joy when Governor Edwards accepted Medicaid expansion for the state of Louisiana.
All of that, however, is what represents our gravest concerns with what's being proposed in this legislation. Essentially, the elimination of Medicaid expansion. For the first time in the state, over 425,000 individuals have been able to gain access to affordable healthcare. That is a life changer. That means, cancer all of a sudden will be diagnosed and a treatment will follow it. That will mean that a child with asthma will be diagnosed and an inhaler or some device that helps them simply breathe will be put in their hands. I mention that one specifically because recently, at the state Capitol, there were advocates talking about what our own state budget will do to the services that are supported by Medicaid dollars that flow through from the federal government.
An individual from school based health care mentioned that the most persistent chronic disease that they see within Louisiana is asthma. I don’t want to highlight one point, I want to use that as an example to talk about the real dire consequences that this sort of proposal will have. I also want to mention the second theme, and that is the option for the poor and vulnerable. Medicaid does a great service of being able to reach out to those who really need that sort of assistance. We need, therefore, to be able to speak on behalf of those individuals who access that form of healthcare and really benefit from it.
What I really want to communicate, and we have drafted a letter that will be sent to both senators- Cassidy as well as Kennedy - is that because the nature of Medicaid within the state of Louisiana, we stand in a very different position from most states in the entire nation because of our reliance on Medicaid dollars for many services. So whether you have some aversion to Medicaid expansion because you think it is a political issue or not, since the Obama administration initiated it, those senators, Cassidy and Kennedy, need to be Louisiana senators first. They don’t need to be senators of a political party or persuasion, they must represent the needs and the desires of those people within our great state. The bishops are certainly going to communicate that to them. They’re going to pledge the support that they always have for accessible and affordable health care and be able to dod that strongly so that they understand that this is a moral issue.
This is not just an issue that someone can simply discard to the side and say there is little importance of it. We can’t vote a certain way because it represents a party line. This is a moral issue that impacts people, impacts the life and dignity of individuals and that particularly impacts those who are of a certain socioeconomic class and need assistance. We need to be there to lift them up and we encourage our senators in this great state to do the same. Thank you.
Dylan Waguespack