Bishops Weigh in on New Health Care Debate

AHCA web imageThe United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is calling upon Congress to construct a new health care law that ensures universal access to affordable health care and conscience rights, but does not fund abortion.

The Catholic News Agency (CNA) is reporting on a letter sent by the bishops to Congress last week in which they responded to the newly unveiled American Health Care Act introduced by House Republicans.

“The Bishops of the United States continue to reject the inclusion of abortion as part of a national health care benefit,” wrote four USCCB committee chairs in the letter, adding that “all people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care.”

The American Health Care Act was introduced last week by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the first phase of a three-part program that will include deregulation of the health care market and additional reforms. It also aims at giving consumers freedom to buy the health coverage they want rather than having to purchase mandated plans with benefits they are not likely to use.

Of utmost importance to Catholics, the proposed bill will defund Planned Parenthood for one year and will contain no funding for abortion either through subsidies or tax credits.

Even though President Barack Obama signed an executive order calling for an enforcement mechanism to ensure no abortion funding under the Affordable Care Act, a 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office found that this might not have been the case.

“The report found that 15 insurers and one state exchange were not itemizing abortion coverage in health plans offered on the exchanges and did not indicate that such abortion coverage was billed separately. Thus, federal subsidies could very well have paid for abortion coverage,” CNA reports.

“Also, in five states, all the health plans offered on the exchanges covered abortions, offering no alternative to those conscientiously objecting to paying for abortion coverage in their plans.”

The bishops insist: “No health care reform plan should compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion.”

They are also calling for universal access to affordable health care, an area where the proposed plan has warranted the most criticism.

american health care actAccording to a report released this week by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 14 million Americans will lose their coverage under the new plan next year, with a total of 24 million losses of coverage by 2027. Although the basis for those numbers is in dispute, it is true that about 14 million Americans currently on Medicaid will lose coverage. However, what is not being said is that Medicaid in its current form is fiscally unsustainable and provides barely minimal care. The proposed reform of the program, which will allocate funds to states based on the number of Medicaid patients, will allow local government to focus more of their resources on the most vulnerable populations and provide better coverage.

Nonetheless, the bishops are insisting that “Any modification of the Medicaid system as part of health care reform should prioritize improvement and access to quality care over cost savings.”

They argue that the Medicaid expansions provided many low-income Americans with coverage, noting that “those who are essentially the working poor or who find themselves one crisis away from falling into deep poverty” were covered “for the first time” under the Medicaid expansion.

If the expansion is rolled back, these families should be exempt from premiums “through some other means,” they said.

Another threat to universal access to health insurance is a plan in the new proposal to charge a penalty of up to 30 percent of a new plan’s premiums for anyone who has a gap in health insurance coverage. As CNA reports, critics say this could unfairly penalize those who go without health insurance or deter people from buying a plan when they get sick.

The bishops also addressed the serious religious freedom concerns in Obamacare which included onerous mandates such as the birth control rule which required employer coverage for sterilizations, contraception and abortifacients with no exemption for religious employers. A so-called “accommodation” offered by the Department of Health and Human Services was nothing more than an accounting gimmick which resulted in dozens of lawsuits.

One suit, involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, reached the Supreme Court where justices ordered the government to make a proper arrangement for religious employers that would not require any involvement in facilitating insurance coverage for procedures that violate their religious beliefs.

“The right to conscience protection derives from the dignity of the human person—it should not be limited to a particular procedure or religious group,” the bishops wrote.

“Out of respect for this foundational principle, Congress should expressly provide conscience protections as part of any health care plan for those who participate in the delivery or coverage of health care services. Such protections should extend to all stakeholders, including insurers, purchasers, sponsors, and providers and should cover any regulatory mandates.”

They conclude: “Health care is not just another issue for the Church or for a healthy society. It is a fundamental issue of human life and dignity. . . . Our aim, and our prayer, is that this perspective will help make clear the likely impacts of the decisions you are about to debate in Congress.”

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