In a solemn Easter Mass Pope Francis dramatically offered the help of the Roman Catholic Church in funding universal health care in the U.S. He noted that because the U.S. is the only civilized Western country without universal health care and is currently having financial problems, it is the Christian thing to do. “Since we all recognize that we are in a global economy and a global health care community, where neither disease nor money is restricted by national boundaries, it makes good sense to protect the rest of the world from the health problems of the beleaguered U.S. ” He felt that it was most fitting and proper to announce this during an Easter Mass with its tradition of hope and renewal. The plan was immediately dubbed, “Francincare” (pronounced as “Frankincare” with the Italian hard “c”).
In an immediately following press conference papal staffers presented details of the plan. Premiums will be collected in envelopes at weekly services and delivered to Medicare headquarters the next week. The premiums collected will be used to pay for all services except contraception and abortion. Those seeking that coverage may attend an additional weekly session at a synagogue, Episcopal, or Presbyterian church once a month. Each parish church will be designated as an Accountable Care Organization (ACO). Participation will not be denied because of pre-existing conditions or previous religious affiliations.
In response to questions from the press, papal staffers did concede that this plan might help bring U.S. Catholics back to church. Dispensing Pneumovax and flu shots after Christmas Mass was one example they gave. HIV screening could be added to pre-Cana programs, but local parishes could opt out of this benefit if they requested a waiver. Plans to convert St. Vincent De Paul consignment shops into dispensaries of low-cost generic drugs are also under consideration.
Papal staffers also emphasized that the system would not waste a lot of money on developing no-return electronic data capability or a questionably effective quality improvement bureaucracy. “We don’t want another large bureaucracy competing with the Curia. All the money collected will be spent on direct patient care… after the usual percentage to the Papal Office is taken out, of course.”
Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, AMA President, referring to the church’s foray into the intricacies of Accountable Care Organizations welcomed the move saying, “It is about time the Catholic church was accountable for something.”
Prelates in France felt that it just might work in the U.S. but it had no relevance for France “where people stopped going to church a long time ago.”
Christina Kirchner, President of Argentina, stated that “Pope Francis and I have had our conflicts in the past over church vs. state matters, and I am pleased that he is first trying this out in North America.”
Mitt Romney, contacted on the floor of a Tea Party conference in Arizona, immediately referred to the offer as “a naked grab for power by a foreign potentate… Frankenstein could be dangerous, I think we should just stay against Obamacare.”
Sean O’Malley, Bishop of Boston, tweeted “gives new meaning to the word frankincense. can’t wait to use it in my Christmas homily. #thenewchurch.”
Obama was reported to have been pleased by the idea, but mused, “I wonder what he thinks of gun control? The Roman Catholic church may be the only organization big enough to take on the NRA.”
The plan was developed in secret over several months and received the final vote of approval during the recent conclave. Earlier drafts of the plan were used to blacken the smoke from the Sistine Chapel prior to Francis’s election.
Papal staffers assured all that the financial reserves of the world-wide church was adequate to sustain the program though its implementation might be slowed by the scarcity of both primary care physicians and priests in the U.S. Efforts to train nuns as both physician and priest delegates will be stepped up. They did note that the plan would not cover any mental health services with the explanation that “We are already conducting weekly, even daily, group therapy sessions. If you add in the out reach efforts of our after-school training classes (used to be called CCD), organized family retreats, and sponsored pilgrimages/cruises to foreign lands, we feel no further mental health coverage will be needed.”
At the end of the press conference Pope Francis returned briefly, bestowed the usual Papal Blessing on the gathering (see Hubslist March 15), and closed with a benediction in Italian, Spanish, and English: “Felice Aprile Ingannare Giorno”,
“Felize Abril Enganar Dia”, and
“Happy April Fools Day”