Catholic leaders react to House bill to repeal, replace health care law

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters


health care “a vital concern for nearly every person in the country,”
the U.S. Catholic bishops said March 8 they will be reviewing closely a measure
introduced in the House March 6 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Discussions on health care
reform have reached a level of intensity which is making open and fruitful
dialogue difficult, even while most people recognize that improvements to the
health care system are needed to ensure a life-giving and sustainable model for
both the present and future,” said a letter to House members signed by the
chairmen of four U.S. bishops’ committees.

“Given the magnitude and
importance of the task before us, we call for a new spirit of cooperation for
the sake of the common good,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori
of Baltimore, chairman, Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank J.
Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human
Development, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman, Committee on

Main provisions of the new House
bill include: 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.

It also eliminates
any government subsidies, such as tax credits, for health plans that cover
abortion (except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother);
and blocking about $500 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the
nation’s largest single abortion provider.

The Catholic Health Association
in a March 7 statement said it “strongly opposed” the House repeal
and replace measure, saying it “asks the low-income and most vulnerable in
our country to bear the brunt of the cuts to our health system.”

It pointed to the proposal to
cap federal financing of Medicaid, which is a state-federal program; to
eliminate cost-sharing subsidies for low-income people and create
“barriers to initial and continuing Medicaid enrollment.”

CHA said the provision on
pre-existing conditions would come with a 30 percent monthly premium surcharge
for a year “should they have a lapse in coverage.” Its vision for
health care in the U.S. “calls for health care to be available and
accessible to everyone, paying special attention to poor and vulnerable
individuals,” the CHA statement said.

In their letter, the Catholic
bishops called on lawmakers to consider moral criteria as they debate the
measure, including: respect for life and dignity; honoring conscience rights;
access for all; a plan that is “truly affordable … comprehensive and
high quality.”

The U.S. bishops “continue
to reject the inclusion of abortion as part of a national health care benefit,”
they said. “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.”

Hyde Amendment
protections, they said, “must extend to any relevant health care plan in order
to prevent federal funding of abortion, and federal resources — including tax
credits — must not be used to assist consumers in the purchase of health care plans
that cover abortion.” Such protections should not be “a temporary fix or future
promise,” they said.

The 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 House Jan. 24 passed
the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act to make the amendment permanent. The
Senate has not yet acted on the measure.

Regarding conscience
rights, the committee chairmen said, “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.”

They also said that “any modification of the
Medicaid system as part of health care reform should prioritize improvement and
access to quality care over cost savings.”

The U.S. Catholic Church, the
bishops said, “remains committed to the ideals of universal and affordable
health care, and to the pursuit of those ideals in a manner that honors”
the moral criteria they outlined.

Health care is not just another
issue, but a “fundamental issue of human life and dignity” and
“a critical component of the Catholic Church’s ministry,” they added.

The U.S. bishops have advocated
for universal and affordable health care for decades and they supported the
general goal of the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010, but the
bishops ultimately opposed the law because it expanded the federal role in
abortion and failed to expand health care protections to immigrants.

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister
of Social Service, who is executive director of the Catholic social lobby
Network, said the new health care bill “must be rejected.”

“Our test for any ACA
replacement bill is simple,” she said in a March 8 statement. “Does
the bill protect access to quality, affordable, equitable health care for
vulnerable communities? After reviewing the House GOP replacement bill, the
answer is a resounding no.

“Instead of providing
greater health security, the bill increases costs for older and sicker patients
and drastically cuts the Medicaid program, all while providing huge tax cuts to
wealthy corporations and individuals,” she continued. “This is not
the faithful way forward and must be rejected.”

Catholic Charities USA sent a
letter March 8 to Congress voicing its opposition to the new health care
measure, signed by Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of the
organization. She noted “commendable efforts” in the bill including
protection for the unborn and greater flexibility for the states.

But Sister Markham said the
measure makes major reductions in health care for more than 70 million poor and
vulnerable on Medicaid and said it “undermines access to life-saving
health care coverage.”

Tom McClusky, vice president of
government affairs for March for Life Action, praised lawmakers for the bill’s
pro-life provisions.

“House leadership and those
who drafted the American Health Care Act deserve high accolades for their
efforts to make certain that any changes to the health care system do not
encourage, subsidize or directly pay for abortions,” he said. “They
also deserve praise for sticking to their commitment to eliminate Planned
Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, from Medicaid reimbursements
for one year.”

“This will redirect women
to federally qualified health centers, which provide all of the health services
American women need and outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by a ratio of 20-to-1,”
McClusky added.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article