Ravell Call, Deseret News
Jennifer Meyer-Smart speaks during a public hearing for the state Medicaid program in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

For Catholics, who profess the dignity and sanctity of life, health care is a clear human right. We know this to be true because we understand that, to live a life of dignity, people need access to certain basic requirements that make life possible: food, water, shelter, education, meaningful employment and health care. A lack in any one of these renders life more difficult, to the point that a person’s very existence may be at risk.

The good people of Utah recognize the importance of each of the basic needs, reaching out consistently and impressively to help people in need locally and globally. The generosity of Utahns is unquestionable, but charitable works often require government support to ensure no person who is experiencing poverty or has clear vulnerabilities falls through the cracks.

Fortunately, we live in a country and state capable of closing the gaps in access to health care for our friends, families and neighbors. Medicaid is the state-federal partnership that provides health care for low-income children, pregnant mothers, elderly people, disabled individuals and many of our veterans. Nearly 300,000 Utahns benefit from Medicaid. The program is especially valuable in rural areas, of which Utah has many. Nationally, Medicaid covers 23 percent of adults and 47 percent of children in rural communities.

For those of us who support life, it is encouraging to know Medicaid is there to supply low-income mothers with prenatal care to help them bring healthy babies into this world. In fact, almost one-third of births in Utah are financed by Medicaid. And Medicaid, in the form of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, continues to care for disadvantaged kids, giving needy and at-risk young people a healthy start in life.

At the other end of the spectrum, Medicaid is central to America’s elder care. Today, 60 percent of nursing home residents rely on this coverage, and 40 percent of all long-term care services are financed by it. Without Medicaid, many working families would struggle desperately to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s or other age-related decline, disease and disability. Later life might be afforded far less dignity if we didn’t have this program.

There are those in politics right now arguing for a rollback of essential public services, such as Medicaid, or severe access restrictions to our social safety net. It would be wise to balance our goals of promoting self-reliance and personal responsibility with a realistic assessment of the world we live in. It’s one in which wage increases are not keeping pace with living costs, especially when it comes to health care. We cannot measure the worth of someone’s life or well-being based solely on the market value of their labor. Providing basic health care is the humane, indeed Christian, thing to do, and Medicaid is a viable option to deliver such care when it would not otherwise be available.

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While generous individuals and organizations can contribute to a family’s medical care, Medicaid ensures the economically disadvantaged can obtain preventative care, including well child checkups, disease screenings, smoking-cessation programs and other services. Every time we prevent a heart attack, catch and treat a cancer at its earliest stage, avoid a diabetic seizure or amputation or put a child on a healthy path, we protect the dignity of life and reduce long-term health care costs.

People of faith and of conscience across Utah are united in our desire to help the neediest among us. Christians of various denominations are motivated by Mark 25:35-40, in which the Lord praises those who feed the hungry and care for the sick by saying, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Protecting the dignity and sanctity of life is our Christian calling. In this spirit, we should support, enhance and extend Medicaid to all those who truly need it.