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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 It would have repealed both the individual mandate that says all Americans must buy health insurance or pay a penalty and the requirement all large employers offer health insurance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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Bishop urges Senate to remedy health care for the ‘common good’ — Updated

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — After the Senate voted July 25 to proceed with the health care debate, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., urged senators of both parties to “work together to advance changes that serve the common good.”

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

The statement from Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the health care reform proposals currently under consideration would “harm millions of struggling Americans by leaving too many at risk of losing adequate health coverage and continue to exclude too many people, including immigrants.”

“We are grateful for the efforts to include protections for the unborn, however, any final bill must include full Hyde Amendment provisions and add much-needed conscience protections. The current proposals are simply unacceptable as written, and any attempts to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act) without a concurrent replacement is also unacceptable,” he said in a July 25 statement.

During the procedural vote on the Senate floor, 50 Republicans voted yes and two GOP senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted no, along with the Senate’s 48 Democrats. The tiebreaking vote was necessary from Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate.

The vote to debate health care legislation took place after months of ongoing discussion and leaves Senate Republicans with a few options, including completely replacing the health care law, or voting for what has been described as a “skinny” repeal that would remove parts of the Affordable Care Act. They also could pass a measure that would repeal the current law without implementing a replacement.

Late July 25, the Senate voted down one of these proposals in a 57-43 vote with nine Republicans voting against it. The proposal — an updated version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act — would have done away with the ACA’s tax penalties for those not buying insurance, cut Medicaid and allowed insurers to sell cheaper policies with less coverage. It also included $100 billion in extra funds to help people losing Medicaid.

Senators were expected to vote on a “repeal-only” proposal July 26 that also was likely to face defeat since many in both parties have spoken against repealing the ACA without a replacement plan.

As votes were being cast, all eyes were on Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who returned to the Senate floor just days after being diagnosed with brain cancer, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, who had not assured the Senate of his vote prior to the tally.

Just prior to the procedural vote, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, majority leader, urged fellow senators not to let this moment slip by.

“All we have to do today is to have the courage to begin the debate,” he added as protesters yelled in the background: “Kill the bill, don’t kill us.” “Shame.”

“Will we begin the debate on one of the most important issues confronting America today?” he asked before answering: “It is my hope that the answer will be yes.”

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, minority leader, stressed that Democrats had been locked out of the recent health care debate and he warned that the Republican plan will “certainly mean drastic cuts” in Medicaid and would cause many to lose health care insurance.

McCain urged his colleagues to “trust each other” and “return to order” after casting his vote to move the debate forward.

In his July 25 statement, Bishop Dewane said, “There is much work to be done to remedy the ACA’s shortcomings” and he called on the Senate to make the necessary changes.

He also stressed that “current and impending barriers to access and affordability under the ACA must be removed, particularly for those most in need. Such changes can be made with narrower reforms that do not jeopardize the access to health care that millions currently receive,” he added.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said in a July 26 statement that she was disappointed with the Senate’s vote to attempt to repeal and replace the ACA “without a clear plan to protect access to affordable health care coverage.”

She said that throughout the health care reform debate, Catholic Charities has insisted that any reform must protect those who have health care coverage and provide more health insurance to those without it.

“We urge senators to work together to reject dramatic cuts to Medicaid coverage and provide a health care bill that truly expands coverage, reduces costs and respects human life and dignity, especially for those who are most in need,” she said.

 

Carolyn Mackenzie contributed to this report. Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Bishop Dewane: House’s budget resolution puts the poor in jeopardy

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House budget resolution “will place millions of poor and vulnerable people in real jeopardy” because it reduces deficits “through cuts for human needs” and by trying to slash taxes at the same time, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee.

The U.S. Capitol dome is seen behind the entrance to the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

The U.S. Capitol dome is seen behind the entrance to the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters)

“A nation’s budget is a moral document,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. “Congress should choose a better path, one that honors those struggling in our country.”

Bishop Dewane’s July 20 statement was issued in response to the budget resolution that was voted out of the House Budget Committee along party lines July 19.

The nonbinding Republican measure is a 10-year budget blueprint that calls for $621.5 billion in national defense spending, provides for $511 billion in nondefense spending and ties cuts to a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code.

It makes at least $203 billion in cuts over a decade in Medicaid, food stamps, tax credits for the working poor and other programs that help low-income Americans. The bill also would change Medicare into a type of voucher program for future retirees.

“The USCCB is monitoring the budget and appropriations process in Congress very carefully, and is analyzing the proposed House budget resolution in more detail,” Bishop Dewane said. “We note at the outset that the proposal assumes the harmful and unacceptable cuts to Medicaid from the American Health Care Act.”

The House May 4 passed the American Health Care Act to replace the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. The Senate effort to repeal and replace the health care law collapsed late July 17.

In the House budget resolution, “steady increases to military spending … are made possible by cutting critical resources for those in need over time, including potentially from important programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) that provide essential nutrition to millions of people,” Bishop Dewane said.

“This would undo a bipartisan approach on discretionary spending from recent years, that, while imperfect, was a more balanced compromise given competing priorities,” he added.

Catholic Charities USA also rejected the measure’s “dramatic cuts in key social safety net programs.”

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of the national Catholic Charities network, urged House members “to prioritize and protect programs that support and uplift the poor and vulnerable in our country.”

“While CCUSA supports the responsible use of our nation’s fiscal resources and has worked consistently to improve effectiveness in anti-poverty programs, reforms that seek only to cut our nation’s social safety net will further strain efforts to meet individual needs and risk pushing more Americans into poverty,” Sister Markham said July 20.

She made the comments in a letter to Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, who is chair of the House Budget Committee, and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, ranking member.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, also wrote to Black and Yarmuth expressing her opposition to the budget resolution.

“As an organization guided by the social teachings of the Catholic Church, we firmly believe that the federal budget should be informed by moral principles and offer special protections for the poor and vulnerable,” she wrote July 18, the day the measure was unveiled.

“A budget must be fair and just and cannot be balanced on the backs of those among us who least can afford it,” Sister Keehan said. “We recognize that the proper role of federal spending programs should be to lift up the neediest among us enabling them to active participants in society.

“Unfortunately, the deep cuts in programs and services assumed by this budget proposal will severely reduce or eliminate access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, health care, education and other social supports that help lift families and individuals out of poverty and improve their health outcomes,” she said.

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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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