Catholic bishops call health care reform bill 'deficient'

The current health care reform bill is "deficient" and should not move forward without "essential changes," the chairmen of three committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said December 22.The chairs, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, of the Committee on Migration, stated their position in a December 22 letter to senators working to pass the Senate version of health reform legislation. The legislative proposal now advancing "violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions -- a policy upheld in all health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment as well as in the Children's Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- and now in the House-passed 'Affordable Health Care for America Act,'" the bishops said. They said that the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives "keeps in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective abortions and plans that include elective abortions" and "ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people's abortions." The Senate bill does not maintain this commitment. In the Senate version, "federal funds will help subsidize, and in some cases a federal agency will facilitate and promote, health plans that cover elective abortions," the bishops said. "All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people's abortions in a very direct and explicit way, through a separate premium payment designed solely to pay for abortion. There is no provision for individuals to opt out of this abortion payment in federally subsidized plans, so people will be required by law to pay for other people's abortions." The public consensus against abortion funding, said the bishops, "is borne out by many opinion surveys, including the new Quinnipiac University survey of December 22 showing 72 percent opposed to public funding of abortion in health care reform legislation." "This bill also continues to fall short of the House-passed bill in preventing governmental discrimination against health care providers that decline involvement in abortion," the bishops said. And it also "includes no conscience protection allowing Catholic and other institutions to provide and purchase health coverage consistent with their moral and religious convictions on other procedures." The bishops also called for all immigrants, regardless of status, to be able purchase a health insurance plan with their own money. "Without such access, many immigrant families would be unable to receive primary care and be compelled to rely on emergency room care," the bishops said. "This would harm not only immigrants and their families, but also the general public health. Moreover, the financial burden on the American public would be higher, as Americans would pay for uncompensated medical care through the federal budget or higher insurance rates." The bishops urged removal of the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing federal health benefit programs, such as Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and Medicare, which was proposed by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). His proposal, "which would give states the option to remove this ban, should be included in the bill." The bishops said they want health insurance to be affordable and said that while the Senate bill "makes great progress in covering people in our nation," it "would still leave over 23 million people in our nation without health insurance. This falls far short of what is needed in both policy and moral dimensions." The bishops urged Congress and the Administration to "fashion health care reform legislation that truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all." Right now, they said, "in all the areas of our moral concern, the Senate health care reform bill is deficient. On the issue of respect for unborn human life, the bill not only falls short of the House's standard but violates longstanding precedent in all other federal health programs. Therefore we believe the Senate should not move this bill forward at this time but continue to discuss and approve changes that could make it morally acceptable. Until these fundamental flaws are remedied the bill should be opposed." "Regardless of the outcome in the Senate, we will work vigorously to incorporate into the final legislation our priorities for upholding conscience rights and longstanding current prohibitions on abortion funding; ensuring affordability and access; and including immigrants," they added. "We hope and pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine reform."

********** Published: December 25, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 65