Bishop: Cut ‘harmful proposals’ from health care bill

Tyler Orsburn | Catholic News Service
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WASHINGTON — The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has "major defects," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development.

"It is deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded," Bishop Dewane wrote in a statement. "The AHCA does offer critical life protections, and our health care system desperately needs these safeguards. But still, vulnerable people must not be left in poor and worsening circumstances as Congress attempts to fix the current and impending problems with the Affordable Care Act."

He added, "When the Senate takes up the AHCA, it must act decisively to remove the harmful proposals from the bill that will affect low-income people — including immigrants — as well as add vital conscience protections, or begin reform efforts anew. Our health care policy must honor all human life and dignity from conception to natural death, as well as defend the sincerely held moral and religious beliefs of those who have any role in the health care system."

Bill opponents cited reductions in coverage and cost increases. Proponents cited its pro-life provisions.

• Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA: "The vote falls far short of protecting the millions of Americans who have insurance or gained it under the Affordable Care Act. It also fails to provide access to affordable health care for the millions who still live without coverage."

• Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network: "The role of health care should implicitly be to provide the highest quality care for the largest number of people, in the interest of maintaining dignity and quality of life, as our faith calls us to do. It is immoral to restrict access to care for anyone, but especially for the most vulnerable, including those who need consistent treatment and our aging population."

• Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life: "Abortion is not health care, and in light of that — this bill provides Hyde (Amendment)-like protections and redirects funding away from our America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, to community health centers that offer comprehensive women's care, and already outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by 20 to 1."

Planned Parenthood would be blocked from receiving federal funding for one year under the new bill.

Even with the bill's passage in the House, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

One provision of the bill would let the federal government stop providing enhanced funding for new Medicaid enrollees after 2019, which would likely cause most of the 31 states and Washington that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to drop it, according to an analysis the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. An estimated 11 million people receive Medicaid under the ACA. The bill also allows states to impose a work requirement for Medicaid recipients.

The legislation also would allow insurers to charge higher premiums to those in their 50s and early 60s, compared to younger consumers. Taxes on the wealthy, insurers and others under the ACA would be eliminated under the new bill, as would the individual mandate imposed by the ACA with its attendant penalties for noncompliance. The bill also would replace federal subsidies tied to personal income and insurance premiums and replace it with refundable tax credits based mainly on age to purchase health insurance.

One popular part of the ACA that was retained in the new bill was a requirement that children be carried on their parents' family policies to age 26. 

Long-awaited executive order on religion has unclear path ahead

By Carol Zimmermann | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — At a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, President Donald Trump told a group of religious leaders: "It was looking like you'd never get here, but you got here, folks," referring to their presence at the signing of the executive order on religious liberty.

And maybe some in the group wondered where "here" was since they hadn't even seen the two-page executive order they were gathered to congratulate and only knew the general idea of it from a White House memo issued the previous night with just three bullet points.

The order didn't seem to part any seas to make an immediate path to religious freedom, especially since it places decisions for how this will play out in the hands of federal agencies and the attorney general.

Catholic leaders in general seemed to view it with cautious optimism, praising the order as a first step but not the final word.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who attended the White House ceremony also celebrating the National Day of Prayer, said immediately after the event that he hadn't seen the entire executive order. He defined the principle of it: "There should not be an overly intrusive federal government" involved when people are exercising their religious freedom in the public square or institutions they run.

The two-page order, "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty," was posted on the White House website hours after it was signed. It is half the length of a leaked draft version of this order published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine. The order signed by the president is short on specifics and far less detailed than the leaked draft.

It devotes the most space to a promised easing of the Johnson Amendment — a 1954 law that bans churches and nonprofit organizations with tax-exempt status from taking part in partisan political activity. Although it would take an act of Congress to do away with this regulation, Trump can direct the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce it.

Many people likely aren't familiar with the amendment by name, or weren't before this executive order, but they support the idea of it, according to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The poll shows 71 percent of Americans favor the law, as do most all major U.S. religious groups. Only about one-third of white evangelical Protestants favor allowing churches to endorse candidates, compared to 56 percent who oppose it. Also, just 23 percent of white mainline Protestants, 25 percent of Catholics and 19 percent of black Protestants support churches endorsing political candidates.

Cardinal DiNardo said the amendment was likely more important to evangelical Christians than Catholics because, as he pointed out, the Catholic Church "has the tradition of 'Faithful Citizenship,'" which he said puts the Johnson Amendment in a bigger context.

"Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," the U.S. bishops' quadrennial document on political responsibility, guides voters not according to the stances of specific political candidates but Catholic social teaching.

Commenting on another major point of the executive order — relief to employers with religious objections to include contraception coverage in their employees' health care plans — Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, called it "a good thing — and long overdue," but he also noted that "such regulatory relief was already probably on its way, as a result of the Supreme Court's decisions."

As Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson stated: "This order marks an important step in restoring those constitutional principles guaranteed to every American," with the added caveat, "There is still work to be done." 

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