Taking ‘vital coverage’ from those in need ‘unacceptable,’ says bishop

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate must reject any health care reform bill that will "fundamentally alter the social safety net for millions of people," said the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

"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 Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., stated in a letter.

He urged senators to reject such changes "for the sake of persons living on the margins of our health care system."

A day earlier, Bishop Dewane issued a statement saying that the loss of affordable health care under the Republicans' proposal was "simply unacceptable."

The Senate released its Better Care Reconciliation Act in "discussion draft" form June 22. In an analysis of the proposal aimed at replacing the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure would leave 22 million more people without insurance.

In response to that report, Bishop Dewane said June 26 that "this moment cannot pass without comment. ... As the USCCB has consistently said, the loss of affordable access for millions of people is simply unacceptable. These are real families who need and deserve health care."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced senators will not act on the bill until later in July.

In his letter to senators, Bishop Dewane reiterated initial concerns outlined by the USCCB when the draft was first released, namely that 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.

Loss of coverage "will be devastating" to the people who can least afford it at a time "when tax cuts would seem to benefit the wealthy" and when increases in defense spending are being contemplated, he said in the June 27 letter.

The U.S. bishops do "value the language" in the Senate bill that recognizes "abortion is not health care," he continued, and it at least partially succeeds on conscience rights. But he said it needs 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."

Bishop Dewane said the Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act "is a slight improvement in limited ways" over the House version passed in May, called the American Health Care Act. "Overall, however, those enhancements do not overcome the BCRA's failure to address the needs of the poor," he said.

One part of the bill cuts the federal government's share of funding for Medicaid to 57 percent of its cost over the next seven years. States have picked up the balance of the funding to date.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the government had guaranteed that its funding for adults newly eligible for Medicaid would fall to no lower than 90 percent of their costs. Many states expanded Medicaid coverage for all adults ages 18-65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The bill also would defund Planned Parenthood for one year under the bill. 

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