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Senate bills fail but need to reform health care remains, says bishop

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WASHINGTON — After the Senate Republicans failed to get enough votes to pass a “skinny” repeal to remove parts of the Affordable Care Act in the early hours of July 28, a U.S. bishop said the “task of reforming the health care system still remains.”

The U.S. Capitol is seen prior to an all-night round of health care votes on Capitol Hill July 27 in Washington. The Senate rejected legislation to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein,

The U.S. Capitol is seen prior to an all-night round of health care votes on Capitol Hill July 27 in Washington. The Senate rejected legislation to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein,

The nation’s system under the Affordable Care Act “is not financially sustainable” and “lacks full Hyde protections and conscience rights,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

It also “is inaccessible to many immigrants,” he said in a statement.

“Inaction will result in harm for too many people,” Bishop Dewane added.

The failed repeal bill was a pared-down version of earlier bills. It would have repealed both the individual mandate that says all Americans must buy health insurance or pay a penalty and the requirement all large employers offer health insurance to their workers. It would have expanded health savings accounts, delayed a tax on medical devices and increased funding for community health centers.

The vote was 51 against, and 49 in favor. All the Democrats voted “no.” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, joined two other GOP senators in rejecting the measure, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had pushed the latest version forward in hopes it would be passed and lead to a conference with the House, which May 4 passed the American Health Care Act to replace the ACA, to hammer out a compromise measure.

The Senate vote is over, but the need to reform health care remains, said Bishop Dewane, who urged the two political parties to get past their divisions and work for “the common good.”

“A moment has opened for Congress, and indeed all Americans, to set aside party and personal political interest and pursue the common good of our nation and its people, especially the most vulnerable,” he said.

He laid out four action items he said are essential to any bill to be considered in the future:

  • “Protect the Medicaid program from changes that would harm millions of struggling Americans.”
  • “Protect the safety net from any other changes that harm the poor, immigrants, or any others at the margins.”
  • “Address the real probability of collapsing insurance markets and the corresponding loss of genuine affordability for those with limited means.”
  • Provide full Hyde Amendment provisions and much-needed conscience protections.”

 “The greatness of our country is not measured by the well-being of the powerful but how we have cared for the ‘least of these,'” Bishop Dewane said. “Congress can and should pass health care legislation that lives up to that greatness.”

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U.S. bishops’ committee chair sees little improvement in Senate’s revised health bill

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WASHINGTON — The Senate Republicans’ latest effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act is “unacceptable” and shows little improvement over the lawmakers’ first attempt to reform the federal health care law, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee.

“On an initial read, we do not see enough improvement to change our assessment that the proposal is unacceptable,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington. The Senate Republicans’ latest effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act is “unacceptable” and shows little improvement over the lawmakers’ first attempt to reform the federal health care law, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The U.S. Capitol in Washington. The Senate Republicans’ latest effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act is “unacceptable” and shows little improvement over the lawmakers’ first attempt to reform the federal health care law, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

“We recognize the incremental improvement in funding the fight against opioid addiction, for instance, but more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill,” he said July 13.

Bishop Dewane said the USCCB “is reviewing carefully the health care bill introduced by Senate leadership earlier today.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, introduced the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act. The measure needs 50 votes to pass.

In his July 13 statement, Bishop Dewane referred back to his June 27 letter to senators that said any health care reform bill must uphold several moral principles: affordability; access for all; respect for life; and protection of conscience rights. The bishops also have stressed the need for U.S. health care policy “to improve real access” to health care for immigrants.

The U.S. Senate must reject any health care reform bill that will “fundamentally alter the social safety net for millions of people,” he said in the June letter. “Removing vital coverage for those most in need is not the answer to our nation’s health care problems, and doing so will not help us build toward the common good.”

Bishop Dewane also said in that letter the U.S. bishops valued the language in the earlier Senate bill that recognizes “abortion is not health care,” and that it at least partially succeeded on conscience rights. But he said it had to be strengthened to fully apply “the long-standing and widely supported Hyde Amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

The June 27 letter reiterated points the U.S. bishops made in reaction to a June 22 draft of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Bishop Dewane had warned that the bill’s “restructuring of Medicaid will adversely impact those already in deep health poverty. At a time when tax cuts that would seem to benefit the wealthy and increases in other areas of federal spending, such as defense, are being contemplated, placing a ‘per capita cap’ on medical coverage for the poor is unconscionable.”

The revised GOP bill introduced July 13 retains big cuts in Medicaid funding and in subsidies for low- and moderate-income people. It also scales back the federal portion that covers the cost of Medicaid, leaving states to pay more and find new funding and/or reduce benefits and limit who can enroll in the program.

The measure provides for $45 billion in grants to help states combat abuse of opioids and other drugs; the first version allowed $2 billion. It also would let people use money from their tax-exempt health savings accounts to pay for insurance premiums.

In addition, people would be allowed to buy just a catastrophic health insurance policy to cover serious accidents and diseases, like cancer. Insurance companies also would be allowed to sell policies that do not include all the coverage mandated by the ACA, such as preventive care and mental and substance abuse treatment, as long as they sell one policy that includes those requirements.

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Bishops: ‘Moral measure’ of U.S. budget is its help for poor, hungry

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WASHINGTON — Congress should base all federal budget decisions on how they provide for those in need, whether they protect or threaten human life and dignity, and if they promote the common good of “workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times,” said the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees in a letter to Congress.

“In the past year, Congress and the administration have taken significant action to reduce the federal deficit, while attempting to protect programs that serve poor and vulnerable people,” said Bishops Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa.

The letter was dated March 6 and released March 7.

Bishop Blaire is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Bishop Pates is chairman of their Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“Congress will continue to face difficult choices about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices and balance resources and needs,” the bishops said. “We fear the pressure to cut vital programs that protect the lives and dignity of the poor and vulnerable will increase. As Catholic bishops, we have tried to remind Congress that these choices are economic, political, and moral.”

The bishops said they joined other Christian leaders in calling for a “circle of protection” around the poor and vulnerable, both “at home and abroad,” as members of Congress craft and debate a budget resolution and spending bills for the next fiscal year.

The bishops said access to “affordable, life-affirming health care that respects religious freedom” is an urgent national priority and warned against shifting rising health care costs to vulnerable seniors, people with disabilities and the poor.

They voiced support for programs that help low-income people such as Pell grants, offered to needy college students to defray tuition expenses at the college of their choice, and improved workforce training and development. They also pushed for efforts to restore funding cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and to make permanent an expansion of low-income tax credits.

Bishops Blaire and Pate said they opposed steps that negatively impact poor families such as increasing the minimum rent that can be charged to families receiving housing assistance and a proposal to eliminate funding for a school voucher program called the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The bishops also made the case for protecting programs that help the poor internationally.

“As pastors, we see every day the human consequences of budget choices. Our Catholic community defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad,” they said. “We help poor families rise above crushing poverty, resettle refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, and reach out to communities devastated by wars, natural disasters and famines,” the bishops wrote.

They noted that the “moral measure of this budget debate” is not about political parties or prevailing powerful interests “but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated.”

“Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources,” they said.

 

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Bishop: Church has long sought ‘decent health care for all’

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The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee said that “long before the current battles” over health care reform and the federal contraception mandate, “the Catholic Church was persistently and consistently advocating for this overdue national priority” of universal health care.

“Since 1919, the United States Catholic bishops have supported decent health care for all and government and private action to advance this essential goal,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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Calif. bishop calls for good stewardship of God’s air

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The gift of clean air provided by God to humanity deserves to be protected through strong environmental stewardship by making changes in daily life so that fewer pollutants enter the atmosphere, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice Human Development.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., urged an audience at the interfaith Festival of Faiths conference Nov. 7 that taking steps to live more simply, use natural resources wisely and reduce personal consumption, air pollution and one’s carbon footprint to ensure clean air for all and to ease the effects of climate change on the world’s poorest people.

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