Bishops urge Congress to take bipartisan approach on health care reform

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) — Now that lawmakers have withdrawn the
American Health Care Act, Congress must “seize this moment to create a new
spirit of bipartisanship” and make “necessary reforms” in
existing health care law to address access, affordability, life and conscience,
said three U.S. bishops’ committee chairmen.

bill was removed from consideration by the House at the eleventh hour March 24
because its passage looked unlikely, as a number of lawmakers disagreed with
several of its provisions as well as the process that led to the drafting of
the bill.

measure “contained serious deficiencies, particularly in its changes to
Medicaid, that would have impacted the poor and others most in need in
unacceptable ways,” the bishops said in a joint letter to Congress dated
March 30 and released March 31 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But the
committee chairmen also said that withdrawal of the bill “must not end our
nation’s efforts to improve health care.”

letter was signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the
Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore,
chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Frank J.
Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and
Human Development.

The bishops stressed that a positive
aspect to the proposed legislation was its “critical life protections for
the unborn.”

restricting federal funding for abortion, its providers and the purchase of
plans that cover it, the bill would have finally resolved a grave moral failing
rooted within the very structure of the Affordable Care Act,” they said.

letter also pointed out issues that still need to be addressed, such as conscience
protections for those who participate in the delivery or coverage of health
care services, problems of rising costs and premiums and the obstacles to
immigrant access to health care.

still have a duty to confront these significant challenges. While a
comprehensive approach is preferable, some of the problems can be fixed with
more narrow reforms, and in a bipartisan way,” the bishops said, suggesting that Congress
pass the Conscience Protection Act, extend full Hyde Amendment protections to
the Affordable Care Act, and enact other targeted laws to remove current and
impending barriers to obtaining health care.

41-year-old Hyde Amendment, which has to be approved each year as part of the
budget for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, prohibits tax
dollars from paying for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to
the woman’s life. The Conscience Protection Act would provide legal protection
to doctors, nurses, hospitals and all health care providers who choose not to
provide abortions as part of their health care practice.

Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic
Health Association, said her organization is “pleased that the hastily
crafted American Health Care Act did not garner enough support from
congressional members for it to be approved in the House of Representatives.”

In a
statement to be published in the April 15 issue of Catholic Health World,
a CHA publication, Sister Keehan said the association remains “concerned
about the continued affordability and stability of the individual health
insurance market under the ACA.” She said she hopes Congress will work in
a bipartisan way going forward to address those challenges, adding that it has
“a perfect opportunity to do that now.”

Keehan, who heads an organization of more than 600 hospitals and 1,400
long-term care and other health facilities in the United States, said “maintaining
health care coverage is not a problem either party can solve alone at this
point, but it is solvable with bipartisan efforts.”

is anxious to cooperate with President Donald Trump and Congress in working
toward a solution that is better for everyone. We need to craft a solution that
seeks the common good for all Americans,” she said.

In a
March 17 letter to House members about the American Health Care Act, Bishop Dewane
said the bill’s inclusion of “critical life protections” was laudable,
but other provisions, including those related to Medicaid and tax credits, were troubling.

ACA is, by no means, a perfect law,” Bishop Dewane said. “The
Catholic bishops of the United States registered serious objections at the time
of its passage. However, in attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA,
health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly
for those who struggle on the margins of our society.”

provisions of the shelved legislation included: eliminating the mandate that
most individuals have health insurance and putting in its place a new system of
tax credits; expanding Health Savings Accounts; repealing Medicaid expansion
and transitioning to a “per capita allotment”; and prohibiting health
insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on
pre-existing conditions.

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