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New U.S. health care bill withdrawn after if falls short of votes in the House of Representatives

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, doesn’t mince words when it comes to the American Health Care Act, which was short of votes and withdrawn by House Republicans late March 24.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan recommended March 24 that President Trump withdraw the American Health Care Act when it didn't have enough votes in the House. (CNS/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan recommended March 24 that President Trump withdraw the American Health Care Act when it didn’t have enough votes in the House. (CNS/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Two days before the GOP legislation was set for an initial vote in Congress and then delayed due to last-minute wrangling and efforts to gain support, she described the bill as a disgrace, a pro-life disaster, a huge step back, catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and something that would do incredible damage.

The woman religious, who heads an organization of more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in the United States, has a vested interest in the nation’s health care and she also knows the ins and outs of health care legislation from working behind the scenes “forever,” as she describes it, on the Affordable Care Act.

At the time that the ACA was being drafted, some Catholic organizations opposed key elements of the measure. Once it became law, more than 40 lawsuits were filed to challenge the subsequent Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate requiring that insurance plans include coverage for artificial birth control, sterilization and drugs that lead to abortions.

Sister Keehan is quick to point out that the health care legislation signed into law seven years ago is far from perfect, but she says it was an “incredible step forward.”

“I do recognize the political conflict and the imperfections in the bill, but when you can make insurance that much better for people who have it and give 20 million Americans insurance, that is a huge step forward,” she said March 21 in her Washington office.

At a 2015 Catholic Health Association gathering in Washington, President Barack Obama thanked Sister Keehan for her steadiness, strength and “steadfast voice.”

“We would not have gotten the Affordable Care Act done had it not been for her,” he said.

The immediate repeal and replacement of the ACA was a key promise of President Donald Trump’s campaign, but the GOP health care measure has faced opposition from both conservative and moderate Republicans. Trump told House Republicans that he will leave ACA in place and move on to tax reform if they do not support the new health care legislation.

Watching the GOP efforts to repeal and replace the ACA has been hard for Sister Keehan mainly because she and other health care leaders were not consulted in the process.

“We should never, ever throw together a bill that’s going to be such a profound impact on the people of this country in this short of time and without any input from those who care for them,” she said.

The work on these two health care bills couldn’t have been more different, she pointed out, noting that prior to the ACA launch she felt like she “lived in committee rooms” because she was constantly meeting with committees, groups and subgroups at the White House and Congress.

With the GOP health care plan, she said there wasn’t any opportunity for hospital groups or the American Medical Association to give any advice.

“We’ve just been dismissed,” she said, noting that she attended a few small group meetings on Capitol Hill but “they were not meetings to get our input on what ought to be done with the bill but meetings to tell us what was going to be done.”

“This has just been railroaded through Congress,” she added.

While the U.S. bishops have applauded pro-life elements of the American Health Care Act, they also have criticized other elements and expressed concern for its impact on the disadvantaged.

In a March 17 letter to House members about the GOP measure, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said 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.”

He said the bill’s restriction of funds to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion “honors a key moral requirement for our nation’s health care policy.” But he also criticized the absence of “any changes” from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services considered morally objectionable by employers and health care providers.

“The ACA is, by no means, a perfect law,” Bishop Dewane said. “The Catholic bishops of the United States registered serious objections at the time of its passage. 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.”

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”; and prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions.

Sister Keehan said she thanked Bishop Dewane for his letter to Congress and said the bishops had carefully gone through the legislation measure by measure on a number of issues. She also noted that she knows people in the pro-life community either think the new bill is strong enough or not doing enough.

As she sees it, the bill is “a pro-life disaster in the fact that when you take health care away from people, you take life.”

“If you want to really, really strengthen the pro-life culture in this country, you make sure people know that their lives and the lives of their children are so valued by our country,” she said, which means providing quality maternity and pediatric care and offering programs like Head Start and food stamps.

Although she said under the ACA no federal funds could be spent on abortion, a nonpartisan government agency in an assessment of the law in 2014 said abortion coverage was available in some plans. Sister Keehan also said the law included help for pregnant mothers to get drug rehabilitation, housing and maternity care, which are not included in the new bill.

“I don’t find this a pro-life bill at all from every perspective,” she added about the new measure.

When asked if there was a silver lining with people at least talking about the need to provide insurance for all Americans, Sister Keehan said the health care crisis for so many people doesn’t give “the luxury of time.”

“To be the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee all its citizens health care is a disgrace,” she said, adding: “We are at a real crossroads in our country’s sense of its responsibility to its people.”

 

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Obama thanks Catholic Health Association for support of Affordable Care Act

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Telling the Catholic Health Association that he was there to say thank you, President Barack Obama June 9 recalled the struggles of passing the Affordable Care Act and ticked off the successes since it became law five years ago.

“Every one of these stories touched me,” Obama said of those without affordable health care before the ACA took effect, referencing an emergency room visit when his daughter Sasha had meningitis. He said he had good insurance at the time but wondered about the families in the ER who did not.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, greets U.S. President Barack Obama June 9 in Washington during CHA's annual assembly. (CNS photo/Bob Roller

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, greets U.S. President Barack Obama June 9 in Washington during CHA’s 100th anniversary assembly. (CNS photo/Bob Roller

“There is something deeply cynical” about attempts to roll back health care that works, Obama said of ongoing Republican-led efforts to kill the program.

Obama acknowledged that without the support of CHA president and CEO Sister Carol Keehan and its members, the legislation would not have passed. He said he told Sister Carol, a Daughter of Charity, backstage, “I love you” and meant it.

“Her dedication to doing God’s work here on earth, her commitment to serving ‘the least of these,’ her steadiness, her strength, her steadfast voice have been an inspiration to me,” Obama said. “We would not have gotten the Affordable Care Act done had it not been for her. I want to thank the entire Catholic Health Association for the incredible work you do.”

The speech at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington was part of the 100th anniversary observances for the CHA, the leadership organization representing more than 600 Catholic hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in all 50 states.

Sister Carol told Catholic News Service after the event that getting the president to address the Catholic Health Assembly, as the CHA conference is known, was “the icing on the cake” of special events planned for the 100th anniversary year. The assembly attended by more than 1,000 people opened with a Mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception across town, with Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the current and retired archbishops of Washington, respectively, and other bishops. “The shrine was packed,” she said. “It was as beautiful a Mass as I’ve seen.”

She said she personally handed off the invitation to Obama during a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough several months ago. Sister Carol has worked closely with the White House staff over the years on a variety of issues.

Sister Carol told CNS that the current system of health care “is not everything we need by a long shot, but it is an incredible step forward.”

In addition to a majority of Republicans in Congress, some Catholic organizations also opposed key elements of the ACA. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has challenged in court the law’s provisions for requiring that insurance plans include coverage for artificial birth control, sterilization and drugs that lead to abortions.

In his remarks, Obama referenced his first job after college, working as a community organizer in a program funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, operating out of Holy Rosary Church on Chicago’s South Side.

“The work was hard, and there were times where it was dispiriting,” he said. “We had plenty of setbacks. There were times where I felt like quitting, where I wondered if the path I’d chosen was too hard.”

“But despite these challenges, I saw how kindness and compassion and faith can change the arc of people’s lives,” he continued. “And I saw the power of faith, a shared belief that every human being, made in the image of God, deserves to live in dignity; that all children, no matter who they are or where they come from or how much money they were born into, ought to have the opportunity to achieve their God-given potential; that we are all called, in the words of His Holiness Pope Francis, ‘to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.’”

At the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin headed the Archdiocese of Chicago and Obama was struck by his example, he said. “He understood that part of that commitment, part of that commitment to the dignity of every human being also meant that we had to care about the health of every human being. And he articulated that, and the church articulated that, as we moved at the state level in the Illinois legislature, once I was elected there later on in life, to advance the proposition that health care is not a privilege, it is a right.”

That is the core of the CHA mission, Obama said, going on to thank the members for their role in helping reform the nation’s health care system.

He and Sister Carol both acknowledged that the ACA is far from perfect.

“Like any serious attempt at change, there were disruptions in the rollout, there are policies we can put in place to make health care work even better,” he said. He said the system needs reforms to how health care is delivered, it needs protection for the coverage of the 16 million people who signed up under the ACA; more states must expand Medicaid for the working poor and improvements are needed in quality of care while bringing down costs.

 

 

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Obama’s compromise offers ‘next to nothing,’ bishops’ president says

By

Catholic News Service

ROME —- Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York said Feb. 13 that President Barack Obama’s proposed revision to the contraceptive mandate in the health reform law did nothing to change the U.S. bishops’ opposition to what they regard as an unconstitutional infringement on religious liberty.

“We bishops are pastors, we’re not politicians, and you can’t compromise on principle,” said Cardinal-designate Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “And the goal posts haven’t moved and I don’t think there’s a 50-yard line compromise here,” he added.

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