Members of the U.S. Senate "have a grave obligation" to make sure their health care reform bill respects life, provides access to adequate health care "for all" and is "truly affordable," the chairmen of four U.S. bishops' committees said in a letter to senators released June 2.
As the Senate takes up health care reform, it "must act decisively to remove the harmful proposals from the House bill that will affect low-income people—including immigrants—as well as add vital conscience protections, or begin reform efforts anew," the chairmen said, reiterating key moral principles they urged be in the U.S. House bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.
By a four-vote margin May 4, the House passed the American Health Care Act to replace the Obama administration's health care law.
Senate Republicans have been urged to pass health care legislation before the congressional recess at the end of July.
"The Catholic Church remains committed to ensuring the fundamental right to medical care, a right which is in keeping with the God-given dignity of every person, and the corresponding obligation as a country to provide for this right."
After House passage of its measure, the U.S. bishops "noted the positive aspects" of the bill, including "critical life protections" for the unborn, the letter said, but the measure "contains many serious flaws" the Senate must act to change, it added.
The letter, dated June 1, was signed by New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice Chairman and Human Development; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration.
"Most troubling are unacceptable changes to Medicaid that reports indicate will leave millions of additional people uninsured in the years ahead," the letter said.
"The Catholic Church remains committed to ensuring the fundamental right to medical care, a right which is in keeping with the God-given dignity of every person, and the corresponding obligation as a country to provide for this right," it continued. "Health care debates must not be reduced to only those elements which appear most politically expedient; those without a strong voice in the process must not bear the brunt of attempts to cut costs."
The letter said the U.S. bishops "stand ready to work with Congress" to address problems with the current health care law "in ways that protect the most vulnerable among us."
It also stressed that health care is "much more than mere insurance" and should provide incentives for preventative care, early intervention and even encourage people to enter medical professions which foster relationships between doctors and patients.
The bishops' letter to the Senate reiterated many of the points raised in a March 8 letter to House members that said any repeal of the previous health care legislation shouldn't move forward without a replacement plan. They also urged that such a plan should show respect for life, offer access for all, be truly affordable and offer comprehensive and high quality coverage.
"No health care reform plan should compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion," the bishops wrote, adding that long-standing Hyde Amendment protections must be included in any health care plan and that federal resources should not be used to "assist consumers in the purchase of health care plans that cover abortion."
The bishops said that if the Senate uses the American Health Care Act as its starting point, they should "retain the positive elements of the bill and remedy its grave deficiencies." The bishops suggested the new plan keep protections for the unborn; ensure affordable and adequate coverage for all stages of life; and increase the level of tax assistance, especially for low-income and older people, in the measure's tax credit proposal.
They also said a new plan should oppose significant penalties, which the poor cannot afford, for gaps in coverage and add conscience protections.
The letter urged senators to recognize their "grave obligation" to come up with a fair health care plan. It included a quote from Pope Francis about health care saying: "When a sick person is not placed at the center and considered in their dignity, attitudes arise which can even lead to profiteering on other people's misfortunes. The growing health poverty among the poorest segments of the population is due precisely to the difficulty of access to care."