Relief was likely the overriding emotion this morning experienced by a lot of Americans who have found their way, often for the first time in their lives, to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. It was one shared by Carol Keehan, D.C., C.E.O. and president of the Catholic Health Association.
“We are relieved and delighted that the [Affordable Care Act] remains intact,” Sister Keehan said. “We believe that there were lots of heroes on both sides of the aisle as this was sorted through, and we think that this is really an important moment now to hear the people on both sides of the aisle that have said we need to come together and work on making this better.”
In the culmination of seven years of efforts to end the A.C.A., Senate Republicans were unable to pass their “skinny repeal” of Obamacare. Senator John McCain of Arizona, in a dramatic turnabout, joined two other Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, united with Senate Democrats and Independents in voting down a measure that had been introduced just hours before.
Sister Keehan described that last-ditch effort to repeal major components of Obamacare as “poorly thought-out” and “harmful,” hastily pulled together without input “from the people who take care of patients or even from the American public.”
“The American genius can make the A.C.A. so much better. We need to marshall that genius.”
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fl., chair of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a statement released on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this morning, suggested it may be time now for members of Congress to put the repeal effort behind them and pull up their sleeves. “Despite the Senate’s decision not to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last night,” he said, “the task of reforming the healthcare system still remains.
“The current healthcare system is not financially sustainable, lacks full Hyde protections and conscience rights and is inaccessible to many immigrants. Inaction will result in harm for too many people.”
An opportunity has come for Congress, Bishop Dewane said, “to set aside party and personal political interest and pursue the common good of our nation and its people, especially the most vulnerable.”
Sister Keehan agrees the G.O.P. failure could be a pivot point on further progress toward the universal coverage in the United States that most other industrialized nations have taken for granted for decades. “No matter how enthusiastic a supporter you may have been for the A.C.A., no one thought it was a perfect law or as good as it could be if we could work on it together,” she said. “But it is very hard to improve a law that half of Congress was trying to get rid of.”
Now, she said, “we have people on both sides who believe we need to work together. We heard that loud and clear from Senator McCain’s speech.”
“The American genius,” she said, “can make [the A.C.A.] so much better. We need to marshall that genius, to use everybody’s input and gifts to make this bill so much more of service to the American people and the American economy.”
According to Bishop Dewane’s statement, any future health care legislation should protect the Medicaid program from changes “that would harm millions of struggling Americans” and protect the U.S. social safety net “from any other changes that harm the poor, immigrants, or any others at the margins.” He said health care reform should “address the real probability of collapsing insurance markets and the corresponding loss of genuine affordability for those with limited means” and “provide full Hyde Amendment provisions and much-needed conscience protections.”
As the legislative drama concluded last night, a frustrated President Trump turned to Twitter to complain: “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!” It was not the first time that he has suggested that his administration would remain on the sidelines as insurance markets remained vulnerable around the country. Analysts point out that the Trump administration, particularly through the Department of Health and Human Services, has many options at its disposal if undermining the A.C.A. were a deliberate aim.
Sister Keehan was hopeful that would not be the case. “Man does not live by tweet alone,” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t pay attention to tweets; I do pay attention to policy and legislation.”
She added, “It is important that we all accept our responsibility for being at the service of the people of this country when we have a job to do as a politician or as a provider of health care. We do need to work together.
“Many of the people who are the most ardent supporters of President Trump depend on Medicaid,” she pointed out. “I’m sure that he does not want to see anybody in this country hurt because we undermined service to people or undermined American health care.”
She said the C.H.A. is ready to be a constructive part of dialogue aimed at improving health care in the nation: “We offer our service to Congress, to the H.H.S. and the president to do that.”
Bishop Dewane offered a qualified commitment of support for future health care reform legislation should the 115th Congress produce it. “Any final agreement that respects human life and dignity, honors conscience rights, and ensures that everyone can access health care that is comprehensive, high quality, and truly affordable deserves the support of all of us,” he said. “The greatness of our country is not measured by the well-being of the powerful but how we have cared for the ‘least of these.’ Congress can and should pass health care legislation that lives up to that greatness.”