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Bishops seek revised health care law that’s ‘affordable and comprehensive’ — updated

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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.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price gestures at a stack of papers that he said was the Affordable Care Act during a March 7 press briefing as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer looks on at the White House in Washington. The law, as passed in 2010, was 906 pages long. Republicans in the U.S. House have introduced a measure to repeal and replace the federal health care law. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price gestures at a stack of papers that he said was the Affordable Care Act during a March 7 press briefing as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer looks on at the White House in Washington. The law, as passed in 2010, was 906 pages long. Republicans in the U.S. House have introduced a measure to repeal and replace the federal health care law. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

“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 Migration.

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”; prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions; and cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood clinics.

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.”

“Any modification of the Medicaid system as part of health care reform should prioritize improvement and access to quality care over cost savings,” they said.

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 20:1,” McClusky added.

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Bishop welcomes federal court ruling against President Trump’s refugee ban

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that upheld a temporary restraining order against President Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries that also temporarily suspended the country’s refugee resettlement program.

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf and her daughter, 1-year-old Shams, wave after arriving Feb. 7 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. (CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, Reuters)

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf and her daughter, 1-year-old Shams, wave after arriving Feb. 7 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. (CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, Reuters)

“We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process. We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, said in a statement Feb. 10.

“At this time we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed in our country,” the statement said.

The bishop pledged that church agencies would continue to welcome people “as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and traditions.”

In a decision issued late Feb. 9, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the government’s argument to lift the freeze on the president’s order and maintained that the court had jurisdiction in the case as a check on executive power.

Trump had argued that his order was a matter of national security and that the courts had no claim to adjudicate the issue.

The panel ruled otherwise saying that such an argument “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Further, the judges said, “although courts owe considerable deference to the president’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action.”

The administration is expected to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump said in a posting on Twitter minutes after the ruling was released: “see you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!”

He later told reporters that the judges had made “a political decision.”

The case was filed by the state of Washington, which argued that Trump’s order was unconstitutional because it discriminated against Muslims and that state agencies were harmed because students and employees were barred from re-entering the country. The state of Minnesota subsequently joined the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart of Seattle halted Trump’s travel ban Feb. 3 by granting a temporary restraining order.

Several lawsuits have been filed challenging Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order that suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and banned entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days.

Another clause in the order established religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.

In its 29-page ruling, the appeals court said the administration’s lawyers had provided no evidence that refugees from the seven countries named in the ban posed a national security threat through terrorism.

The judges also wrote that the government had not shown Trump’s order provides any avenue for those restricted from traveling to the U.S. to appeal the decision or seek a hearing to present their reasons for entering the country. The decision said that earlier court cases had determined that the protections established under the due process clause in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment “apply to all ‘persons’” within the U.S. including aliens whose presence is “lawful, unlawful, temporary or permanent” as well as to people attempting to reenter the U.S. after traveling.

The court also considered the public’s interest in the case and determined that the public “has an interest in the free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families and in freedom from discrimination.”

 

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Trump’s move to build border wall will ‘tear families apart,’ bishop warns

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration criticized President Donald Trump’s executive memorandum to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it would “put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way.”

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, also criticized Trump’s memorandum on a surge in immigrant detention and deportation forces, saying it would “tear families apart and spark fear and panic in communities.”

A photo taken in 2016 shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Sunland Park, N.M., opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. President Donald Trump enacted two executive memorandums to deal with security, including one that calls for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

A photo taken in 2016 shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Sunland Park, N.M., opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. President Donald Trump enacted two executive memorandums to deal with security, including one that calls for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

Trump signed the two executive memorandums on national security Jan. 25 during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security.

Earlier, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the wall, a cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign, would “stem the flow of drugs, crime and illegal immigration” along the southern border. He also said Trump’s top priority was the nation’s security.

But hours later, Bishop Vasquez issued a statement saying that construction of the wall would “make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers. Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.

“Instead of building walls, at this time, my brother bishops and I will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will ‘look to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down the walls of exclusion and exploitation.’”

During a February 2016 visit to Mexico, Pope Francis traveled to the U.S. border at Ciudad Juarez and pleaded for the plight of immigrants. He said those who refuse to offer safe shelter and passage were bringing about dishonor and self-destruction as their hearts hardened and they “lost their sensitivity to pain.”

Bishop Vasquez said the bishops respected the government’s right to control its borders and to ensure the safety of all Americans, but said, “We do not believe that a large-scale escalation of immigrant detention and intensive increased use of enforcement in immigrant communities is the way to achieve those goals. Instead, we remain firm in our commitment to comprehensive, compassionate, and common-sense reform.”

He said the new policies would “make it much more difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country. Every day my brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children in our schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.”

“We will continue to support and stand in solidarity with immigrant families. We remind our communities and our nation that these families have intrinsic value as children of God. And to all those impacted by today’s decision, we are here to walk with you and accompany you on this journey,” Bishop Vasquez said.

At the Jan. 25 White House briefing, Spicer reiterated that Mexico would end up paying for construction of the wall. He said Trump would work with Congress on finding money to pay for the construction, noting, “there are a lot of funding mechanisms that can be used.”

Trump’s second executive memorandum also directed John F. Kelly, secretary of homeland security, to look at how federal funding streams can be cut for cities and states that illegally harbor immigrants. Spicer said the so-called “sanctuary cities” create a problem for taxpayers.

“You have American people out there working” and their tax funds are sent to places that do not enforce the law, he said.

The executive memorandums did not address the issue of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, nor did they discuss emigration from the Middle East, which Spicer said would be addressed later in the week.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which authorized several hundred miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile U.S. frontier with Mexico. The Associated Press reported that legislation led to the construction of about 700 miles of various kinds of fencing designed to block both vehicles and pedestrians, primarily in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It said the final sections were completed after President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

AP reported that a 1970 treaty with Mexico requires that structures along the border cannot disrupt the flow of rivers that define the U.S.-Mexican border along Texas and 24 miles in Arizona.

The PICO National Network, the largest network of congregations and faith-based groups in the country, including Catholics, challenged the executive memorandum on sanctuary cities.

“Retaliating against local communities because they refuse to follow immoral policies is part of an emerging pattern of President Trump of not only bullying people who dare to disagree with him, but isolating and further marginalizing people who are different than him,” said Eddie Carmona, campaign director for PICO National Network’s LA RED campaign. “Such behavior is inconsistent with the long-held notion that America was a place of opportunity for all.”

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service and executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization, called the presidential orders “antithetical to our faith.”

“When Nuns on the Bus visited the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, we walked along the wall and listened to the stories of communities that have been torn apart for decades. That is the reality experienced by border communities: The wall is there and it affects the daily life and commerce of the people.

“Federal appropriations for border security have grown to $3.8 billion in FY2015, from $263 million in FY1990, and fencing exists for hundreds of miles along our southern border,” she said in a statement.

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