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House’s health care bill has both laudable and troubling aspects, bishop says

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WASHINGTON — The inclusion of “critical life protections” in the House health care bill is laudable, but other provisions, including those related to Medicaid and tax credits, are “troubling” and “must be addressed” before the measure is passed, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, who is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, sent a letter March 17 to House members. It was released March 20 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Congressman Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, takes notes as he listens to House Budget Committee lawmakers deliver statements on the American Health Care Act during a March 16 hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Congressman Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, takes notes as he listens to House Budget Committee lawmakers deliver statements on the American Health Care Act during a March 16 hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Regarding life protections in the bill, Bishop Dewane said: “By restricting funding which flows to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion, including with current and future tax credits, the legislation honors a key moral requirement for our nation’s health care policy.”

Among the “very troubling features” of the bill are the Medicaid-related provisions, he said. Other aspects that must be addressed before the bill is passed include the absence of “any changes” from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services, Bishop Dewane said.

His letter follows one sent March 8 to House members by him and three other bishops’ committee chairmen stating they would be reviewing closely the American Health Care Act, introduced in the House March 6 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The other signers of the earlier letter were: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman, Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman, Committee on Migration.

In his March 17 letter, Bishop Dewane said one area in the new bill that could be helpful, with “appropriate safeguards,” is an effort to increase flexibility for states and provide more options for health care savings and different kinds of coverage based on economic levels. But still, Bishop Dewane said, “efforts to increase flexibility must be carefully undertaken so as not to undermine” a given program’s “effectiveness or reach.”

In the House bill, Medicaid expansion would be repealed and replaced with a “per capita allotment.” Under the current law, more Americans became eligible for Medicaid, so long as their states opted into the entitlement program’s expansion.

The House bill’s “proposed modifications to the Medicaid program, a vital component of the social safety net, will have sweeping impacts, increasing economic and community costs while moving away from affordable access for all,” Bishop Dewane said.

He also cited the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the bill that said “as many as 24 million additional people could be uninsured in the next 10 years for a variety of reasons.”

The U.S. bishops, he said, have stressed that “all people and every family must be able to see clearly how they will fit within and access the health care system in a way that truly meets their needs.”

The CBO estimates millions of people currently eligible for Medicaid under the law “will be negatively impacted due to reduced funding from the per capita cap” proposal, Bishop Dewane said.

“State and local resources are unlikely to be sufficient to cover the gaps,” he continued.

Congress needs “to rework the Medicaid-related provisions of the AHCA to fix these problems and ensure access for all, and especially for those most in need,” said Bishop Dewane.

He also pointed out that the House measure does not provide “conscience protection against mandates to provide coverage or services, such as the regulatory interpretation of ‘preventive services’ requiring contraception and sterilization coverage in almost all private health plans nationwide.”

The mandate requiring most employers to provide such coverage even if they are morally opposed to it, he reminded House members, “has been the subject of large-scale litigation especially involving religious entities like the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

Bishop Dewane outlined other provisions he said need to be addressed before the legislation is passed, including:

  • The new tax credit system, which “appears to create increased barriers to affordability, particularly for older and lower-income people when compared with the cost assistance” allowed under the current health care law.
  • The cap on the cost of plans for older Americans relative to plans for younger people would increase to a 5-to-1 ratio over the current 3-to-1 ratio. Studies show, Bishop Dewane said, that “premiums for older people on fixed incomes would rise, at times dramatically” under the House proposal.
  • A 30 percent surcharge for a 12-month period for those who do not maintain continuous coverage “presents a serious challenge.”
  • No longer any requirement for states to allow individuals seeking Medicaid benefits a reasonable opportunity to verify that they are either U.S. citizens or have a qualified immigration status. “This change would undoubtedly threaten eligible individuals’ access to essential and early medical care,” the bishop said.

The current federal health care law “is, by no means, a perfect law,” Bishop Dewane said, noting the U.S. bishops “registered serious objections at the time of its passage” in 2010.

“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,” he said.

The U.S. bishops “look forward to working with Congress to address the problems found in the AHCA, to ensure that all people can benefit from comprehensive, quality health care that they can truly afford.”

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Living Our Faith: Almsgiving

March 20th, 2017 Posted in Uncategorized

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A passerby gives money to a homeless man sitting outside St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City. Throughout Scripture, we find ample evidence of God calling us to give alms to the poor -- a reminder that almsgiving extends even beyond Lent. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

A passerby gives money to a homeless man sitting outside St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City. Throughout Scripture, we find ample evidence of God calling us to give alms to the poor — a reminder that almsgiving extends even beyond Lent. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

How can we think of almsgiving in new ways during this penitential season?

How can almsgiving bring about a change of heart, the conversion called for during Lent?

Almsgiving calls for a great examination.

When we give alms, we give not only money but our time and talents. We sacrifice our own comfort and desires for the good of others.

 

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Irish archbishop: St. Patrick was an ‘undocumented migrant’

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ARMAGH, Northern Ireland — The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has urged Irish people and those of Irish descent celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to remember the plight of migrants.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, St. Patrick’s modern-day successor as archbishop of Armagh, used his message for the March 17 feast to recall that St. Patrick was first brought to Ireland as a slave by traffickers. Read more »

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Sunday Scripture readings, March 19, 2017

March 16th, 2017 Posted in Uncategorized Tags:

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Third Sunday of Lent

            Cycle A. Readings:

            1) Exodus 17:3-7

            Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9

            2) Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

            Gospel: John 4:5-42

 

Why are you a Christian? What is it that has causes you to follow a man who walked the earth about 2,000 years ago, never traveled too far from his home and died a criminal’s death? Why do you go to church on Sundays and, for that matter, why are you reading this column? Read more »

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Saint of the Week — St. Patrick

March 16th, 2017 Posted in Uncategorized Tags:

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St. Patrick

Feast Day: March 17

The patron of Ireland, this bishop was born in Roman Britain, kidnapped at 16 by Irish

St Mary's Michigan City IN

St. Patrick (CNS)

raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland.

He was a lonely shepherd for six years before escaping and returning home.

But his dream of converting the Irish pagans propelled him to priestly studies in Gaul (now France), and about 432 Pope Celestine I consecrated him bishop and sent him to Ireland.

For nearly 30 years he preached tirelessly, made countless converts, founded monasteries and established the primatial see at Armagh.

Toward the end of his life he made a 40-day retreat in Mayo that gave rise to the famous ongoing Croagh Patrick pilgrimages. Stories of him using the shamrock to explain the Trinity and driving snakes from the island are legend.

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Catholics, Muslims urged to work together, learn from one another

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CHICAGO — Leaders in Catholic-Muslim dialogue called on members of both faith communities to find ways to accompany one another and work together at a moment when all religion is under threat from an increasingly secular and even anti-religious society.

San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy, co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ West Coast Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, and Sherman Jackson, a professor of religion and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California Dornsife, both offered comments at a March 8 public session in Chicago.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago visits March 8 with Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islamic studies at Catholic Theological Union, and Saleha Jabeen, a 2014 graduate of the theological union. They spoke following a public session held during the March 7-8 National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which had as its theme "Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions" and was held at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago visits March 8 with Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islamic studies at Catholic Theological Union, and Saleha Jabeen, a 2014 graduate of the theological union. They spoke following a public session held during the March 7-8 National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which had as its theme “Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions” and was held at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

The public session came during the March 7-8 National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, co-sponsored by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and held at the Catholic Theological Union.

Bishop McElroy said that theological dialogue and reflection is important, but the relationship between Catholics and Muslims in the United States must extend beyond theologians and take on a pastoral aspect.

“It is not enough to clarify our commonalities and differences on a deep theological level or even to publish these findings, if we do not take steps to broadly convey this deepened level of friendship and truth to Muslims and Catholics within our nation,” he said.

At the moment, Catholic and Muslim communities simply do not know one another well enough, the bishop said.

The U.S. bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious committee has co-sponsored three regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues for over two decades — mid-Atlantic, Midwest and West Coast. In February 2016, the committee announced the launch of a national dialogue.

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich began his tenure as the Catholic co-chair of the national dialogue Jan. 1. The Muslim co-chair is Sayyid Syeed, director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances.

In his remarks, Bishop McElroy said ignorance “leads to problems between our two communities, but it is not merely or even primarily theological ignorance.”

“It is the ignorance of not knowing one another as brother and sister precisely in our religious identities,” he said.

“It is the ignorance of not having worked together as people of faith to confront secularism,” he continued, “(of) not having joined with one another to pass on religious faith to our children in a youth culture so hostile to faith, not working together to establish greater spheres for religious liberty within our nation so that we can live in fidelity to our traditions of faith and prayer and morality, not collaborating to bring the sacred understanding of sin and redemption into the heart of our society’s understanding of the human condition and human development.”

Jackson said the obstacle to greater friendship and cooperation goes beyond ignorance to fear.

“Part of what undermines the relationship between Muslims and anybody else in America, not just Catholics, is that it’s so easy to scare people about Islam,” he said. “Because of that fear, you can never get to the point of trust, and without trust there is no friendship, and without friendship, there is no real cooperation.”

Catholics faced similar suspicions in the United States of the 19th and early 20th centuries because they were believed to have a higher allegiance to Rome than to the country.

“The Jewish Question,” the phrase coined by German philosopher Bruno Bauer in the 19th century, was based on the idea that Judaism was a religion of laws that governed private and public conduct, and as such, was incompatible with the modern secular state, Jackson said.

“The present moment has prompted many of us to ponder whether America might be staggering toward a dreaded yet entirely avoidable ‘Muslim Question,’” he said,

Religion, whether Christianity or Islam, can be seen as opposed to the European enlightenment liberalism that American founding fathers relied on.

That liberalism “calls into question all forms of authority outside the individual self, especially religion,” Jackson said. “It insists that individuals must be free to choose their way of life, with the only restrictions being the extent to which their choices encroach upon the freely made choices of others.”

Religious traditions, including Islam and Christianity, set a much higher value on the common good, Jackson said, and call on their members to contribute to it. Muslims who embrace Shariah, Islam’s religious law — can contribute to and benefit from the common good in any number of ways, from following speed limits to keeping public spaces safe for all.

“While such Islamic virtues as fairness, mercy or hospitality may inform the spirit of these deliberations, concrete conclusions would draw upon such principles as efficiency, safety, economic cost, long­ term resource management and the like,” Jackson said. “And in none of this — Islam, Shariah or Muslim ‘God-consciousness’ — would pose an impediment to engaging with non-Muslims on a completely equal footing.”

The challenges of the current moment — including climate change, corporate greed, mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color, among others — could offer an opportunity, he said.

“In fact, given these contemporary challenges, now might be the time when religion in America, including Islam, is best positioned to demonstrate its value as a contributor to the common good,” Jackson said.

“For religion can stand up to the state, the market and the dominant culture,” he continued, “by equipping its followers with an independent moral identity with which to analyze and assess the activities of government, ‘the economy’ and the dominant culture, instead of looking upon the state as essentially the god of the nation, the economy as a divinely predestined order, or the dominant culture as the ultimate, supreme value that is too lofty to be subjected to critical examination.”

Bishop McElroy called on Catholics to take a more vocal stand against anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States and elsewhere.

“If the Catholic-Muslim dialogue is to mean anything at this current moment in our nation’s history, the Catholic community must in the context of this dialogue condemn unequivocally the anti-Muslim prejudice which is present in our midst, and more sadly, present within our own Catholic community,” he said.

“Our nation does face a threat from extremists who have distorted the tradition of Islam and bring violence against innocent victims, and we must be vigilant in identifying and combating that threat,” he said. “But in linking the Muslim community to that threat in a discriminatory manner, we undermine our national security and dishonor our national heritage.”

Bishop McElroy also called on Muslims to condemn the persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries, which, he acknowledged, many have already done.

“I have spoken at length with many Muslim leaders within the United States who have pressed for authentic religious toleration throughout the Middle East, and I know many who have placed their own lives and reputations at risk in this effort,” he said.

“But it is a work of the entire Muslim community within our nation, for building a society founded upon the principle of inclusion and religious liberty is a labor which will never be fully accomplished and will always have enemies,” Bishop McElroy added.

By Michelle Martin, a staff writer at the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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Living Our Faith: Fasting

March 13th, 2017 Posted in Uncategorized

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Fasting from something is not an end in itself. Fasting points beyond itself.

Ewan McGregor stars as Jesus in a scene from the 2016 movie "Last Days in the Desert."  Fasting during Lent is a way for Catholics to prepare themselves for an intense period of time, as when Jesus went into the desert and fasted for 40 days as he prepared for his ministry. (CNS photo/Gilles Mingasson, Broad Green Pictures)

Ewan McGregor stars as Jesus in a scene from the 2016 movie “Last Days in the Desert.” Fasting during Lent is a way for Catholics to prepare themselves for an intense period of time, as when Jesus went into the desert and fasted for 40 days as he prepared for his ministry. (CNS photo/Gilles Mingasson, Broad Green Pictures)

 It focuses our attention on the reality of God’s presence here and now.

Lent is filled with prayerful reflection and repentance. But there can be happiness and laughter, too. Fasting in Lent can teach our children about sacrifice, community and tradition.

Stories in the Bible show fasting as a way to atone for sins, remember significant events and prepare for ministry.

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Cardinal Dolan backs national school choice bill in Wall Street Journal piece

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NEW YORK — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York urged President Donald Trump to follow through on a recent call for legislation that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth nationwide.

Writing in a column for The Wall Street Journal March 9, Cardinal Dolan said he hoped that the president would “push Congress to make scholarship tax credits available to working-class families.”

The cardinal called for rapid action in Congress so that families can benefit as soon as possible from having a choice on where to send their children to school.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Pope Francis pray with students in 2015 at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in the Harlem section of New York City. Cardinal Dolan March 9 urged President Donald Trump to follow through on a recent call for legislation that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth nationwide. (CNS/Reuters)

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Pope Francis pray with students in 2015 at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in the Harlem section of New York City. Cardinal Dolan March 9 urged President Donald Trump to follow through on a recent call for legislation that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth nationwide. (CNS/Reuters)

Seventeen states already have scholarship tax credit programs and Cardinal Dolan said children in the remaining states “deserve the same opportunities.”

Under a nationwide tax credit program parents can opt to send their children to private schools, the cardinal wrote, noting that 97 percent of Catholic high school students in the Archdiocese of New York graduate in four years and 95 percent attend college.

The column cited the benefits of one such program, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, for 300 students who attend St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida, which Trump visited March 3 to announce his support for school choice. Statewide, nearly 98,000 children from low-income families attend parochial or private schools under the program.

Cardinal Dolan wrote that scholarship tax credits “help advance educational and economic justice. They strengthen society by creating opportunity for those who might not otherwise have it.”

He also cited a report in the Peabody Journal of Education in 2016, which reviewed 21 studies on the effect of school choice on test scores of students not participating in such a program. The authors found that in 20 of the studies, the competition from private schools led to improved test results for students in public schools.

The column concluded that taxpayers save money under school choice programs because school overcrowding and costs are reduced.

“Public school classrooms would not be able to handle the considerable influx of children if Catholic and other religious schools closed. We save the public money, and we educate children just as well, if not better, for half the cost when you compare Catholic school tuition with public school spending per pupil,” Cardinal Dolan wrote.

An effort to pass a school choice bill in New York failed in 2012 despite bipartisan and labor union support and again in 2015 because of teacher union opposition, the column said, and therefore, a national solution “is needed to bring relief to families who need it.”

Any effort to adopt school choice must protect religious liberty, Cardinal Dolan stressed.

“The Catholic Church has always stood in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable and our most effective charitable ministry is our schools,” he wrote. “A high-quality, values-based education is simply the surest path out of poverty.”

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Maryland pastor named an auxiliary bishop for Washington

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WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has appointed Father Roy Edward Campbell Jr., who is pastor of St. Joseph Church in Largo, Maryland, as an auxiliary bishop of Washington.

The appointment was announced March 8 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Pope Francis has appointed Father Roy Edward Campbell Jr., who is pastor of St. Joseph Church in Largo, Md., as an auxiliary bishop of Washington. (CNS/Archdiocese of Washington)

Pope Francis has appointed Father Roy Edward Campbell Jr., who is pastor of St. Joseph Church in Largo, Md., as an auxiliary bishop of Washington. (CNS/Archdiocese of Washington)

Bishop-designate Campbell, 69, has been pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, a Washington suburb, since 2010. He is a member of the archdiocese’s clergy personnel board, the vocations board and the college of consultors.

His episcopal ordination will be April 21 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.

Raised in the Washington archdiocese, he worked in the retail banking industry in the Washington-Baltimore area until taking early retirement in 2002. The following year he entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. He was ordained for the archdiocese by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl May 26, 2007.

Bishop-designate Campbell “brings to his new ministry recognized talent and demonstrated ability,” Cardinal Wuerl said in a statement. “He also bears witness to the great cultural and ethnic richness of the Church of Washington reflected in all of the faithful, lay, religious and clergy.”

The appointment was a surprise, Bishop-designate Campbell said in video posted on the archdiocesan website.

“It is a great honor that the Lord himself has bestowed upon me through the Holy Father and quite honestly through our archbishop, Cardinal Wuerl. But it is also very humbling,” he said.

“The only thing that I was looking forward to doing in answering our Lord’s call is to be a priest for his people, to love and serve those he’s called me to, his children, my brothers and sisters. And if he is calling me to serve on a larger scale than a parish as a bishop, then I know I will have his grace, his direction and his love to help me do so,” he said.

The road to the priesthood for Bishop-designate Campbell began in late 1995. Leaving work in Baltimore, he met a person on the street asking for food and took him to get something to eat, according to his biography on the archdiocese website.

“What he said to me I have never forgotten: ‘You’re a Christian, aren’t you?” Bishop-designate Campbell recalled. “My answer to him is just as memorable: ‘I try to be.’ I saw Jesus in that man, as clearly as I saw the man himself. That encounter started my reflection on my relationship with Jesus in a very different way.”

In 1999, Bishop-designate Campbell entered the archdiocese’s permanent diaconate program and four years later entered Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, to begin his priestly formation.

Bishop-designate Campbell was born Nov. 19, 1947, in Charles County, Maryland, and grew up in Washington. He said his mother’s devotion to her Catholic faith demonstrated the importance of having deep love of God in daily life.

A graduate of Howard University and the University of Virginia’s Graduate School of Retail Bank Management, he had a 33-year career with Bank of America, working his way up from teller to vice president and project manager. He also has degrees in zoology, anthropology and chemistry.

After his 2007 ordination, his assignments at Washington parishes included: parochial vicar at St. Augustine Church, 2007-2008; pastoral and sacramental care of the African-American community at Immaculate Conception Parish, 2007-2008; and pastor at Assumption Parish, 2008-2010.

The Archdiocese of Washington covers the District of Columbia and five Maryland counties. Out of a total population of over 2.5 million people, about 647,000, or 22 percent, are Catholic.

Bishop-designate Campbell said he learned about his appointment while in an airport in Florida, as he was waiting for a flight to return to the Archdiocese of Washington after celebrating a Black History Month Mass in Pensacola. He received the news in a phone call from Archbishop Pierre.

“I am amazed. I am very honored, and I do not feel worthy. But I trust the Holy Spirit,” said Bishop-designate Campbell, who will be the nation’s ninth active African-American Catholic bishop. Seven African-American Catholic bishops are retired.

As a bishop, he said he sees his role as “continuing to love and serve the people of God.”

Quoting Pope Francis that priests should be “shepherds with the smell of sheep,” Bishop-designate Campbell said he has always looked at his priesthood as “being with the people, to live in their lives and to offer them God’s sacraments, graces and whatever else they need.”

Richard Szczepanowski contributed to this story.    

 

 

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U.S. bishops call for spirit of cooperation in revising health care program

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WASHINGTON — Calling 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. Read more »

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