Catholic health leader calls Obamacare replacement disastrous for pro-life causes

(CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin) 

The head of the nation’s largest network of Catholic hospitals condemned the Republican-sponsored plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, calling the measure “anti-life” and citing concerns over how the measure would affect pregnant women and young mothers.

“We know that so many times women feel like they have no option but abortion because they can't afford maternity care and even if they could get maternity care, they can't afford to care for the child afterwards,” Carol Keehan, D.C., president of the Catholic Health Association, said in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Critics of the replacement plan, called the American Health Care Act or A.C.H.A., say that its passage could result in higher costs for pre-natal care. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 24 million Americans could lose health insurance over the next 10 years should the bill become law.

Earlier this week, the head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on domestic justice wrote to Congress urging them not to pass the bill without ensuring Americans would not lose critical access to health insurance.

“Regarding access for those most in need, the AHCA includes changes which place many people at significant risk,” Bishop Frank Dewane wrote. “The legislation must be modified to correct these serious flaws.”

“This bill is catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and particularly for the people who we’re called to serve,” said Sister Keehan.

That potential loss of insurance is also alarming to Sister Keehan.

“This bill is catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and particularly for the people who we’re called to serve,” she said.

Though the final bill, scheduled to be voted on Friday afternoon, remains a work in progress, it is likely to include the rollback of Obama-era taxes on wealthy Americans that were put in place to help fund the Affordable Care Act.

Sister Keehan said those cuts were particularly alarming.

“In the first year we will give over $15 billion in tax breaks to people who make over a million dollars” annually, she said. “That is antithetical to Catholic social teaching.”

But some pro-life leaders say the bill, which would cut off funding to some clinics that perform abortions, is too good an opportunity to pass up.

“This is our opportunity to number one, defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion vendor, and this is, number two, a way to stop our taxpayer money of directly funding abortions,” Brendan O’Morchoe, vice president of strategy at Students for Life, told America. “Let’s take advantage of that opportunity as we work together on different solutions to provide Americans more access to healthcare.”

He said that he supported parts of the Affordable Care Act that provided health insurance to low-income Americans and expectants mothers, benefits which could be lost in a repeal. But he said those issues could be addressed in future legislation.

“It becomes a question of, how do we accomplish all of our goals? How do we prioritize what our goals are?” he said. “When it comes to abortion, that’s got to be at the top of the list because it’s the direct, intentional ending of innocent lives and we’re being forced to participate in it.”

“We can disagree on the best way to provide better access to health care for all Americans, especially low-income Americans,” he said.

President Donald J. Trump, who is pushing for passage of the A.H.C.A., tweeted on Friday that a group of pro-life Republicans who are skeptical of the bill, because they want to see the full repeal of Obamacare, are missing an opportunity to cut federal funds to Planned Parenthood.

“The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!” the president tweeted.

Other pro-life activists say the proposed bill harms low-income women seeking medical care during pregnancy and is thus unacceptable to the pro-life cause.

“You have a majority of these people who are labeling themselves as pro-life without realizing that women are still going to need health care,” Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, president of New Wave Feminists, told America. “And not just when they’re pregnant, but when they are pregnant that’s of course going to impact their decisions of whether they’re going to continue a pregnancy.”

 

Ms. Herndon-De La Rosa said she was skeptical of Mr. Trump’s pro-life bona fides during the campaign, and she believes her fears have been justified by his support for A.H.C.A.

"What we’ve done in this country, which I think is very dangerous, is we made the life issue a partisan issue,” Ms. Herndon-De La Rosa said. “So we’re ripe for the picking when it comes to a candidate who just wants to win and he knows all he has to do is say he’s pro-life and we will blindly elect him, and now we’re seeing the fruits of that.”

Sister Keehan, an early supporter of Obamacare, said that in order to strengthen the pro-life cause in the United States, legislative leaders should make sure pregnant women feel that they can afford necessary medical and child care.

“If we want to really strengthen the pro-life culture in this country, you make sure people know that their lives and the lives of their child are so valued by our country, that we give them quality maternity care, we give them quality pediatric care,” she said. “And we surround them with programs like Head Start, like food stamps” so “that if they're in a low economic bracket, their child doesn't have to be doomed to malnutrition and a poor start in life.”

“That’s how you tell people life is important,” she said. “That’s really for me an indictment of this whole bill.”

Zac Davis contributed to this report.

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 weeks 1 day ago

I suggest that the Bishops and Sister Keehan face the fact that Catholic Social Teaching is a political "teeter-totter".
As a practical matter it has two ends: at one end is the abortion issue and at the other end is the litany of social justice goals referencing the Sermon on the Mount. Each time the Bishops run to "one end" they cause the teeter-totter to rock and hit the ground in a very jarring fashion rattling the riders at the other end. Ultimately there has to be a decision as to which end of the teeter totter is more important. Such a decision does not denigrate the less important end.
Since there is no compromise on the Church's view of the abortion the question as to which is more important seems obvious......you can't even try to just stand in the middle and balance the teeter-totter.
Republicans start with the abortion issue as a governmental issue but think that the rest of the social justice issues are not governmental responsibilities. Democrats start with the social justice issues being governmental responsibility and the abortion issue being an individual responsibility.
So do the Bishops try to convince the Republicans or the Democrats to change ? Right now they are dithering ...and vacillating.....and confusing the laity as the many articles on these pages demonstrate. But if the abortion issue is not compromisable, the answer as to where they must start and what they should do seems obvious.

Chris Hohowski
4 weeks 1 day ago

This is truly pro life. You cannot be just pro law but rather address the root causes of abortion. If your goal is to actually saves lives. And that's clear over and over again. You need to address the economic and social causes which include the male responsibility of impregnating women they are not ready and willing to have a child with. Where are the cries for the laws against that?

Kimberly Fleury
4 weeks 1 day ago

I'm surprised at this quote: “In the first year we will give over $15 billion in tax breaks to people who make over a million dollars” annually, she said. “That is antithetical to Catholic social teaching.” -- Sr. Keegan.

Where in Catholic social teaching is there mention of tax breaks, to millionaires or anybody? If Sister truly said this, then she and I have a very different understanding of what it means to disagree on the best way to carry out Catholic social teaching, and Catholic social teaching itself.

I must first point out that I am the poor -- I'm the one she feels sorry for, the one she pities, and I ain't feelin' the love. I honestly think I"m a pawn for "social activists" who make their living on my back, living comfortably while "serving" me.

Sister says women must first feel confident that we'll receive prenatal care so that we don't consider abortion. I grew up impoverished, and believe me, the very poor don't think in these terms. We already know that we can survive, and how we can obtain medical care when needed -- like La Caritas, which provided my prenatal care when I was a pregnant teen. That's another thing -- the influence of social activism on my teen years was such that I had no clue why sex outside of marriage was a sin, or why it might not be wise to bear children out of wedlock. It wasn't until my own children were grown that I began to see what a mess I'd made by my decisions, and why I encouraged my children to marry before having intimate relations -- not that I was entirely successful in convincing them, but just as people of Sister Keegan's age saw the errors of their parents' generation, I finally see the errors of Sister's generation. I was able to earn a Bachelor's degree with government grants, and fed my children with food stamps, received cash assistance and raised my children in subsidized housing, but I'm locked into the cycle of poverty because I've never been allowed to save (in fact, even my tax refund counted against me because it came at the same time as my annual recertification, so my assistance was cut until 2-3 months after my refund was spent on living expenses). I fared best under conservative governments that encouraged working and saving a cushion to fall back on in emergencies, but those governments never lasted long enough to allow me to break out of the cycle. As soon as I began earning a living wage, my subsidized housing charged me "full market value" rent, which is much higher than real market value rent in nicer neighborhoods in this area, but because there's so much violence and noise in subsidized apartments I wasn't able to sleep, and faced other issues such as transportation, that caused me to lose my job. All because I wasn't able to save up enough to move out. I'm working as a minimum wage contingent, so if I lose a night of sleep, I can turn down jobs without worrying about being fired. But I always worry about paying bills and maintaining my car. I had health care coverage under the AHCA, but last summer I received a retroactive bill from my provider, with a threat that they would garnish my wages if I didn't pay. I have nothing left over to be able to pay, but they wouldn't let me cancel. It took months, but I was finally able to cancel coverage. Now I just hope the IRS won't penalize me next year. So no thank you, Sister. I don't need your kind of help, and neither do other single mothers. Believe it or not, subsidized housing has a number of conservative voters because we want to be able to work our way out of poverty and not be used as pawns by well-off people who make their living off of claiming to speak for us.

Vince Killoran
4 weeks 1 day ago

I'm unclear on how getting government support to earn a bachelors degree locked you into a cycle of poverty. Also, I was interested to read that you found a living wage crucial to securing human living conditions. How does the free market ideology provide living wages for Americans? Is there any scholarly evidence of this?

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 weeks ago

Vince
Kimberly's story is very common. Government assistance is all too frequently a crippling narcotic.
What seems unusual is that Kimberly understands that and desperately wants to shake the habit!
I know a number of young working "couples" with children who fully understand every fine detailed aspect of government assistance.
Let me review the consistent point that I have heard in conversations over the bar or at a lunch joint where they "work".
Each member of each couple understands that if he or she earn over $50,000 he/ she will lose state and/or federal tax credits; state and federal food stamps; free childrens' health care; subsidized housing or a housing allowance; federal health benefits ; etc. As a result each person carefully has calibrated the amount of time they will work to stay under that $50,000 trip wire, but most importantly (to my ears anyway) was the simple statement THAT THEY WOULD NEVER GET MARRIED BECAUSE THEN THEIR COMBINED INCOME ($100,000) WOULD CAUSE THEM TO LOSE ALL OF THEIR STATE AND FEDERAL BENEFITS!!
The "wife" of a couple I know WHO ARE MARRIED is an Alaskan entitled to annual dividend from the State of Alaska from its natural resource fund. While she doesn't work (4 Children), her husband, a carpenter, intentionally stops short of earning $50,000 by getting the high end annual estimate of that dividend so he can be careful not to exceed the $50,000 trip wire for losing state of Georgia benefits. He could easily earn $75,00 if he wanted to.

These, Vince, are just the kind of real life social welfare "traps" that Kimberly is talking about . In answer to your question about her degree: Kimberly might well be able to use her degree to earn more....but as she points out; unless she suddenly leapfrogs into a high paying job she will be severely penalized for every interim step in improving her income that she takes. So the government has kindly helped her to get educated but then penalizes her for using that education unless she miraculously vaults into the middle class.

I am sure Sister Keehan is empathetic to the poor and well intentioned, but she clearly doesn't understand the complex social interaction between government benefits and the real life effects of those benefits ON A LONG TERM BASIS. As Jason Riley has written about government assistance to the Black Community in America:,"Please Stop Helping Us- How Liberals Have Made It Harder For Blacks To Succeed".

Vince Killoran
4 weeks ago

No need for capitalizing your words--it doesn't actually strengthen an argument. In any case, I'd like to see some actual evidence of the ill effects of these so-called "crippling narcotics." In any case, I was asking for scholarly studies, not anecdotes. As for your animus against progressive taxation, the wealthy were taxed at a very high rate in the 1950s --much higher than today--and a booming economy, middle class were the result. As it stands, the social safety net is pretty threadbare in this country. The group that benefits the most from from the government tax policies are the wealthy (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/opinion/we-all-get-free-stuff-from-t…) (see also, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/articl…).

Two other quick points:

1. There are no state food stamps. It's a federal program that is administered by states. Also, I don't know what you mean by "federal health benefits."

2. One effective way to avoid the complete termination of government assistance is to do what many governments already do: provide sliding scale forms of assistance.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks 3 days ago

Vince
1)The Federal Food Stamp Act has had multiple changes in the 50 some odd years since inception and is now called "The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program .. SNAP". Yes it is a federal food stamp program ,administered by by the Department of Agriculture, but distributed by the each States' Social Service Department which is also responsible for determining qualifications etc . I do not think it was unfair of me to refer to that as State and Federal food stamps in the conjunctive.
2) Every sliding scale has cut off points where the next scale point is reached. When you near the top of a scale you are disincentivized from earning more because the penalties of crossing the lines, even incrementally, outweigh the benefits of staying where you are. Applied to welfare benefits in general, a scale may try to cure the problem by providing infinite points but there is still some point where it is more attractive to stay in various welfare programs than to get out and work or earn more money.

The "anecdotes" I set forth together with Kimberly' s story are just examples of where it pays to "not work" one's way out of a benefit program. The Progressive Tax System you reference is a perfect example of this all too normal human /economic incentive reaction. For instance given a progressive % income tax rate, when does the value to you of your free time outweigh earning some marginal % after tax dollars ?
So do I want to go to work on Saturday to earn a gross $100 and keep an after tax $50,? Or for $50 would I rather not work and take my kids to the zoo?
At one extreme end of welfare cases this means "why do I want to go to work at all if the government will pay for my housing and food" at the other end is a highly ambitious person who was on welfare because of a temporary set back etc who is willing to work like crazy and suffer short term lost benefit consequences to escape from being trapped in the system .
There is no scale that won't provide "a decision point" involving a "marginal benefit/incentive/disincentive " analysis.....that is the fundamental principle underlying Adam Smith's invisible hand. For you to just suggest if a scale slides the problem just disappears contradicts fundamental economic analysis principles that have stood the test of time.

As for scholarly studies, I suggest you just google" government program disincentives study" and there you will find all kinds of articles published in peer reviewed Journals respecting psychology, general mental health and economics about this topic
I suggest you start with "The Economist" magazine and the "CATO Institute" both of which have extensive articles from the early 1990s to the present addressing welfare benefits and and "marginal incentive/disincentive" analysis. The Economist is a liberal progressive view and CATO is a far more conservative outfit. But both are in remarkable accord in their analysis over the past 30 years.
I think you will find my anecdotes (which you have dismissed) as being perfectly consistent with any number of these studies, and Kimberly' s story is a fine example of marginal incentive /disincentive decision making. Please don't ignore the simple fact that the government having spent a significant amount to help get her educated nonetheless has penalized her for trying to maximize the value of that education. Two arguably well intentioned programs with what combined result in her case?
Please also compare the cumulative costs of the Johnson War on Poverty programs with the poverty rate then and now.
I believe that you will find we have spent about $4 Trillion and yet the poverty percentage is greater now than when the War on Poverty started in the 1960s. ......despite getting progressive tax rates up into the 70% range for an extended period of time. The welfare program problem has nothing to do with being for or against progressive taxes. They are separate issues as the overall success/failure rate of the War on Poverty demonstrates.
Despite your conjecture, I have no "animus towards progressive taxation", having never even mentioned that topic in my first above comment. But you seem to conclude that if a person thinks welfare programs may be well intoned but are stupidly designed that then such a person is automatically anti tax/progressive tax.

Chuck Kotlarz
3 weeks 2 days ago

Vince, "crippling narcotics" perhaps worsens higher up. Four percent of GDP ($700 billion in stock buybacks in 2014), perhaps by design, drives the 400 highest household incomes ($300 million on average), the majority coming from capital gains. Stock buybacks virtually guarantee that long term, US inequality has nowhere to go but up. Stock buybacks were illegal prior to 1982.

J Cosgrove
4 weeks ago

My guess is that Carol Keehan, as well as Mr. O'Loughlin, the author of the piece, nor anyone else at America or their authors knows what was in the ACHA or its planned iterations. I have been searching for weeks and seeing nothing concrete about it. So to say it would be disastrous is at best disingenuous. I just read a blog post on it with over 600 comments and it seemed that few if any had any understanding of the issues. It was mostly venting from one side of the political spectrum to the other trying to secure political points as opposed to being enlightened.

For example, the figure 24 million losing their insurance is nonsense. They will voluntary not purchase insurance if they are not required to have it and that is not losing one's insurance. Now, that may not be a desirable situation but it is not the same as being cut off from insurance. The term losing implies a non-voluntary lost of something. That is not what is expected to happen.

I have seen several discussion of health care and all have been vague but the one thing that the Republicans are striving for is lower cost insurance. Now this can happen in two main ways. One is that the insurance covers less benefits and this will lower costs because the insurance company will be responsible for less reimbursements. The second way is to combine patients into much larger groups so that the group management can negotiate with more power for lower costs for drugs, hospital care, patient visits and procedures. That is routinely done in several places in the US with good results.

If the cost of health care and insurance goes down, and if people can choose less inclusive policies, then more people who are uninsured will likely buy insurance and that will reduce the uninsured not increase it.

People try to take advantage of other's ignorance to scare them or shame them. That should not be what authors on America should do.

Chuck Kotlarz
4 weeks ago

Perhaps it’s time to expand ACA. The VA negotiates 10% to 20% lower drug prices. Let Medicare negotiate drug prices and let Medicare cover everyone’s prescription drugs.

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