US bishops urge caution as Senate considers health care bill

By Joe Slama

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Credit: Darko Stojanovic via Pixabay (CC0).

The US bishops’ annual meeting included on Thursday a discussion on health care, focusing on efforts in Congress to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the domestic justice and human development committee, focused on the underlying principles by which the bishops approach health care.

No law should “compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life,” he said June 15, explaining respect for life, the first of the four “key principles.”

The other principles he enumerated were  true access for all, true affordability, comprehensive and high-quality coverage, and no repeal of the Affordable Care Act without an adequate replacement. He also mentioned the importance of conscience protections.

He said those seeking health care should be able to do so “in accord with their means” and noted that “immigrants continue to be left out of this equation in many ways.”

Speaking about true affordability, he noted the bishops’ concern regarding “structural changes in Medicaid that would leave large numbers of people at risk to losing access.”

The Senate is currently considering the American Health Care Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in May as a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The US bishops have been cautious about the AHCA, saying in the past that it has “many serious flaws.”

Bishop Dewane enumerated four primary concerns of the bishops regarding the AHCA, staring with changes in Medicaid that would allow states to opt-out of important coverage.

He also discussed protection of the unborn, as the bill faces challenges in this respect in the Senate, and a lack of access to health care for migrants.

Finally, Bishop Dewane noted, “the House bill does not provide any conscience protections.”

The bishop stated that the committees related to health care would continue their collaboration, and to provide resources to bishops to help them “preach and teach” on the issue.

In closing his remarks, Bishop Dewane noted, “the teaching we bring to bear in the questions on health and health care do not fit neatly… into the single party platforms. Because of this, the Church has a unique voice.”

He emphasized that the bishops would continue work for those “most in need at all stages of life.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US bishops' conference, said discussion of health care “impacts nearly everyone in our society, but we as bishops strive to engage in this debate as a voice for the voiceless, for the poor, the sick, the unborn. There is still much to be done as the Senate considers a repeal and replacement for the Affordable Care Act.”

Among other bishops who spoke on the topic were Bishop George Thomas of Helena, who said we live in a time of “great gravity” as budget votes draw near which will affect Medicaid and nutritional assistance programs, and called for the bishops to work “by raising up a new degree of public consciousness.” Quoting Robert Frost, he implored the bishops that they “’choose the road less traveled’ for the sake of the people we have been ordained to serve.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also took the floor, saying that “the state has a responsibility of creating solidarity in a country,” and noted that religious sisters working in health care should be consulted in further discussions. Bishop Dewane clarified that this has been the case already.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego observed a “debasement of language” in the national health care debate, citing that while Bishop Dewane spoke of a “robust access,” the access being offered is only “access in theory, access if you’ve got enough money.”

He also noted that “health care is a fundamental human right,” but said the AHCA has been designed as “a house of sand which will deliberately fall apart in the coming years.” He also said that bishops should automatically oppose any bill which is projected to lower the number of people with access to health care.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City explained that under the Affordable Care Act, his local Church lost all its Catholic hospitals, and said that the ACA’s “Medicaid provisions were not sustainable by the states.”

He noted also that while the Obama administration had promised there would always be an option for a plan that did not offer abortions, that promise turned out to be false.

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