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U.S. bishops focused on ‘ensuring fundamental right’ to health care

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Catholic News Service

INDIANAPOLIS — As the country awaits the U.S. Senate’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in the coming weeks, the U.S. bishops made it clear June 15 during their annual spring assembly in Indianapolis that their efforts are focused on “ensuring the fundamental right of medical care” for all people.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also reinforced its stand that the American Health Care Act passed by the U.S. House May 4 needs major reform, to provide quality health care for the voiceless, especially children, the elderly, the poor, immigrants and the seriously ill.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, center, speaks June 14 during the opening of the bishops' annual spring assembly in Indianapolis. Also pictured is Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president. (CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, center, speaks June 14 during the opening of the bishops’ annual spring assembly in Indianapolis. Also pictured is Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president. (CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)

“We find ourselves in a time marked by a deep sense of urgency and gravity,” said Bishop George L. Thomas of Helena, Montana, in his remarks to his fellow bishops. “Within two weeks, we may see a federal budgetary action with potentially catastrophic effects on the lives of our people, most especially children and the elderly, the seriously ill, the immigrant and our nation’s working poor.”

Referring to the House bill, known as AHCA, and its plan to “eliminate $880 billion from Medicaid over the next decade,” Bishop Thomas continued, “If left unchallenged or unmodified, this budget will destabilize our own Catholic health care apostolates, take food from the mouths of school-aged children and the homebound, and deny already scarce medical resources to the nation’s neediest in every state across the land.”

His passion growing as he spoke, Bishop Thomas concluded, “These are our people, our communities, our parishioners and members of our own beloved families. As a conference of bishops, we have the responsibility to read the signs of the times, to shine the light of the Gospel and Catholic social doctrine on this proposed budget.”

Bishop Thomas’ remarks drew appreciative applause from the U.S. bishops on the second day of their June 14-15 meeting.

He was the first bishop to speak following a report on health care reform by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

In his report, Bishop Dewane also focused on how the U.S. Senate will soon turn its attention to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“The Catholic Church remains committed to ensuring the fundamental right to medical care, a right which is in keeping with the God-given dignity of every person,” Bishop Dewane said. “Both the lives of the unborn and adequate concern for those most in need anchor the USCCB’s messages to Congress at this critical time.”

He told his fellow bishops that the USCCB has been in constant contact with members of Congress since the House passed its version of a health care plan. Noting that the USCCB sent a letter to U.S. senators June 1, Bishop Dewane said, “It called on the Senate to strip away harmful promises of the AHCA or start anew with a better bill.”

The letter also provided recommendations and guiding principles for the senators as they craft their health care plan, starting with respect for life.

“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,” Bishop Dewane said about that priority in his remarks.

He also stressed that all people should have access to comprehensive quality health care and that the cost of health care be affordable, keeping low-income families in consideration. Any health care plan should also respect the conscience rights of people, from patients to providers.

“Those without a strong voice in the process must not bear the brunt of the attempts to cut costs,” Bishop Dewane said. “The bishops stand ready to work with Congress to address problems with the Affordable Care Act in ways that protect the most vulnerable among us.

“This is an important moment for the country and for the church. The teaching we bring to bear on questions of health and health care do not fit neatly or really, in many cases, not at all, into the single party platforms,” he continued. “Because of this, the church has a unique voice. The committee’’s work on this issue will remain active and diligent for the sake of those most in need at all stages of life.”

Following Bishop Dewane’s report, other bishops joined Bishop Thomas in sharing their reactions with their fellow bishops.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago said, “The issue is about the human person. We need to make sure that we put forward that our position is that the state has a responsibility in creating solidarity within a country of caring for those most in need.”

Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego reflected on the comparison between the Affordable Care Act and the proposed plan that the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed to replace it.

“Health care is a fundamental human right, and government is its ultimate guarantor,” Bishop McElroy said. “The Affordable Care Act for all its flaws was a movement in favor of comprehensive health care. This is a movement away.”

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, encouraged his fellow bishops to remember people who live in rural areas as they seek a comprehensive health care plan.

“Medical care in the rural parts is in a very delicate state in terms of getting enough doctors and hospitals in those areas,” Archbishop Naumann noted.

He also viewed a call to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act as an opportunity for the country.

“There was a lot of dishonesty in the Affordable Care Act, not just about the conscience rights and what was done to the unborn,” he said. “It was a house of cards. The Medicaid provisions were not sustainable by states, I don’t think. Also, we see that many other parts of it were collapsing in terms of what was really available to people.”

Archbishop Naumann added, “The new plans hopefully will really be something that is sustainable. I think this is an opportunity to do something different from other parts of the world, and to really develop quality health care accessible to all.”

Before Bishop Dewane’s presentation, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, opened the agenda item on health care reform was introduced by saying, “We as bishops strive to engage in this debate as a voice for the voiceless, for the poor, the sick, the unborn.”

“We also strive to bring to the fore the many moral questions in health care that can affect human flourishing, from life’s earliest days to its very final moments,” the cardinal said. “Our teaching has much to offer the current discussions, and we have a unique obligation as bishops to make those teachings known. We are also very concerned with how this debate affects the ability of the church to engage in its venerable ministry of healing the sick.”

— By John Shaughnessy, assistant editor, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Bishops’ committee chairman: Fix flaws in American Health Care Act

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has “major defects,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development.

“It is deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded,” Bishop Dewane said in a May 4 statement. “The AHCA does offer critical life protections, and our health care system desperately needs these safeguards. But still, vulnerable people must not be left in poor and worsening circumstances as Congress attempts to fix the current and impending problems with the Affordable Care Act.”

Signs point toward the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles Jan. 4, 2008. The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has "major defects," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development. (CNS/Paul Buck, EPA)

Signs point toward the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles Jan. 4, 2008. The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has “major defects,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development. (CNS/Paul Buck, EPA)

He added, “When the Senate takes up the AHCA, it must act decisively to remove the harmful proposals from the bill that will affect low-income people, including immigrants, as well as add vital conscience protections, or begin reform efforts anew. Our health care policy must honor all human life and dignity from conception to natural death, as well as defend the sincerely held moral and religious beliefs of those who have any role in the health care system.”

One of 20 Republicans to vote against the bill was Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

“I voted no on the AHCA largely because it cuts Medicaid funding by $839 billion; undercuts essential health benefits such as maternity care, newborn care, hospitalization and pediatric services; includes ‘per capita caps’ and weakens coverage for pre-existing health conditions — all of which will hurt disabled persons, especially and including children and adults with autism, the elderly and the working poor,” Smith said in a May 4 statement.

“Over the past several years, we have seen the flaws of Obamacare, including increased premiums and deductibles, diminishing health care options and patients losing plans they were assured they could keep. These very real problems underscore the need for meaningful bipartisan reform,” Smith added.

Those opposing the bill cited reductions in coverage and cost increases. Those favoring the bill cited its pro-life provisions.

“The vote falls far short of protecting the millions of Americans who have insurance or gained it under the Affordable Care Act,” said a May 4 statement from Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. “It also fails to provide access to affordable health care for the millions who still live without coverage.”

“The role of health care should implicitly be to provide the highest quality care for the largest number of people, in the interest of maintaining dignity and quality of life, as our faith calls us to do. It is immoral to restrict access to care for anyone, but especially for the most vulnerable, including those who need consistent treatment and our aging population,” said a May 5 statement by Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network.

“As arguably the most powerful, developed country in the world, it is inexcusable that our health care system is failing so many. We can and must do better,” Carolan said.

“The passage of the American Health Care Act in the House is a dangerous and irresponsible step that threatens access to health care for at least 24 million Americans. It violates Christian and Catholic faith teaching and the values of our nation,” said Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, in a May 4 statement.

“This was not the faithful way forward,” she added. “We are hurting our people and rewarding the rich through tax breaks disguised as a health care reform bill. This is literal ‘blood money.’ The blood of those who are denied coverage will be on the hands of those who voted for this bill.”

“Today’s House vote marks the beginning of the end of the shell game Planned Parenthood plays with public money. That the American Health Care Act limits Medicaid funds to entities that don’t kill people is entirely appropriate, not to mention a step that’s long overdue,” said a May 4 statement by Father Frank Pavone, national president of Priests for Life.

“Sending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to an organization that dismembers 320,000 unborn babies a year adds up to a travesty of justice,” he added. “The Senate should approve the defunding legislation as soon as possible and send it to the president’s desk. The scam of using public money to prop up abortion businesses needs to be terminated.”

“Abortion is not health care, and in light of that, this bill provides Hyde (Amendment)-like protections and redirects funding away from our America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, to community health centers that offer comprehensive women’s care, and already outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by 20 to 1,” said a May 4 statement by Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.

“We urge our U.S. senators to follow the House’s lead and ensure that pro-life protections and the redirection of Planned Parenthood funding remain, because without it, this bill will fail,” Mancini said.

“National Right to Life praises the Republican leadership for putting this bill together and making sure the most vulnerable members of our society are protected,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, in a May 4 statement. “Over 2 million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment. This new health care bill ensures that we are one step closer to getting the federal government entirely out of the business of subsidizing abortion.”

“This is a hugely important step, but it is just the first step to improving health care for all Americans, especially the vulnerable,” said a May 4 statement by Louis Brown, director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, based in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Michigan.

“The American Health Care Act begins the process of increasing meaningful medical access for individuals and families across the country by returning focus to the doctor-patient relationship,” Brown said.

“Protecting Medicaid is a priority for the faith community. The ‘fixes’ made to the AHCA do nothing to change the fact that millions of low-income Americans will lose their health coverage,” said a May 4 statement by the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, the anti-hunger lobby. “Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty. We strongly urge the Senate to reject this bill.”

“Since failing to pass the original AHCA, House leadership has made the legislation worse by providing even fewer protections for family farmers and rural Americans,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, in a May 4 statement. “NFU’s priority for any bill is that it offers coverage for more people rather than fewer. We look forward to working with members of the Senate to defeat this legislation that would fail millions of people, especially family farmers and rural Americans.”

“This isn’t a health care bill; it’s a half-a-billion-dollar tax cut for corporations, insurance executives, and the wealthiest Americans,” said Communications Workers of America president Chris Shelton in a May 4 statement. “At least 24 million people will lose their health care and Americans age 50 and older will see their costs skyrocket under the ‘age tax’ the bill institutes, all to provide a big tax break for corporations and the wealthy.”

“We support efforts to strengthen and stabilize our nation’s health care system and extend insurance coverage and protections,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association. “However, the American Health Care Act is not the answer. Accordingly, we call on the Senate to reject the bill due to its projected adverse impact on the well-being of our nation, particularly on individuals with mental health, behavioral and substance use disorders.”

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