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Catholic Leaders Study Health Care Proposals

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Calling health care “a vital concern for nearly every person in the country,” the U.S. Catholic bishops said they will be reviewing closely a measure introduced in the House to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Discussions on health care reform have reached a level of intensity which is making open and fruitful dialogue difficult, even while most people recognize that improvements to the health care system are needed to ensure a life-giving and sustainable model for both the present and future,” said a letter to House members signed by the chairmen of four U.S. bishops’ committees.

“Given the magnitude and importance of the task before us, we call for a new spirit of cooperation for the sake of the common good,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Md., chairman, Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman, Committee on Migration.

Main Provisions

The main provisions of the new House bill include: eliminating the mandate that most individuals have health insurance and putting in its place a new system of tax credits; expanding Health Savings Accounts; repealing Medicaid expansion and transitioning to a “per capita allotment”; and prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions.

It also eliminates any government subsidies, such as tax credits, for health plans that cover abortion (except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother); and blocking about $500 million in federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest single abortion provider.

The Catholic Health Association said it “strongly opposed” the House repeal and replace measure, saying it “asks the low-income and most vulnerable in our country to bear the brunt of the cuts to our health system.”

It pointed to the proposal to cap federal financing of Medicaid, which is a state-federal program; to eliminate cost-sharing subsidies for low-income people and create “barriers to initial and continuing Medicaid enrollment.”

CHA said the provision on pre-existing conditions would come with a 30 percent monthly premium surcharge for a year “should they have a lapse in coverage.” Its vision for health care in the U.S. “calls for health care to be available and accessible to everyone, paying special attention to poor and vulnerable individuals,” the CHA statement said.

Consider Moral Criteria

In their letter, the Catholic bishops called on lawmakers to consider moral criteria as they debate the measure, including: respect for life and dignity; honoring conscience rights; access for all; a plan that is “truly affordable … comprehensive and high quality.”

The U.S. bishops “continue to reject the inclusion of abortion as part of a national health care benefit,” they said. “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.”

Hyde Amendment protections, they said, “must extend to any relevant health care plan in order to prevent federal funding of abortion, and federal resources – including tax credits – must not be used to assist consumers in the purchase of health care plans that cover abortion.” Such protections should not be “a temporary fix or future promise,” they said.

The 41-year-old Hyde Amendment, which has to be approved each year as part of the budget for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, prohibits tax dollars from paying for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the woman’s life.

The House passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act to make the amendment permanent. The Senate has not yet acted on the measure.

Regarding conscience rights, the committee chairmen said, “Congress should expressly provide conscience protections as part of any health care plan for those who participate in the delivery or coverage of health care services.”

They also said that “any modification of the Medicaid system as part of health care reform should prioritize improvement and access to quality care over cost savings.”

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