Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bishops' Last Word and a Further Caution on Reidcare

Yesterday, having digested the contents of Senator Reid’s manager’s amendment to the Senate health care reform bill, the U.S. Bishops wrote the Senate urging them “not to move [the] current health care reform bill forward without incorporating essential
changes.” The bishops insist the bill fails to incorporate current federal restrictions on abortion funding, unfairly excludes immigrants and falls far short of providing universal and affordable coverage.

Trying to get a handle on what the manager’s amendment does with regard to abortion funding would be a full time job, and for anyone not in the know, was impossible until the language was made public yesterday. Many well informed commentators have had evolving positions on the language because of the grossly opaque manner in which it has been presented and approved. The bishops themselves said they had to study it further earlier this week. The bishops’ current analysis below on this subject is very good.

I would add one further caution. Even the insufficient abortion funding restrictions in the bill are made contingent upon the current restrictions on funding of abortion by the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the manager’s amendment:

The services described in this clause are abortions for which the expenditure of Federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is not permitted, based on the law as in effect as of the date that is 6 months before the beginning of the plan year involved.

In other words, if a future Congress decides to alter the type of abortions HHS may pay for, the restrictions in the current bill will no longer apply for such abortions. That will make the annual reauthorization of the Hyde Amendment a major annual abortion battle.

There is still a bit of time to let the Senate know you oppose the current bill. Follow this link to send a note to your Senator. It’s easy and quick and may make a difference.

On an unrelated note – Apologies to regular readers here for the spotty posting recently. Unfortunately, posting will continue to be spotty through the New Year.

Here’s the bishops’ letter:

December 22, 2009

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge the
Senate not to move its current health care reform bill forward without incorporating essential
changes to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity,
consciences and health of all.

The Catholic bishops of the United States have long supported adequate and affordable health
care for all, and insisted that providing health care that clearly reflects these fundamental
principles is a public good, moral imperative and urgent national priority. In our letter of
November 20 we urged the Senate to act as the House has in the following respects:

• keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections on
abortion;

• protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current
barriers to access; and

• include strong provisions for adequate affordability and coverage standards.

Disappointingly, the legislative proposal now advancing to final approval in the Senate does not
meet these moral criteria. Specifically, it violates the longstanding federal policy against the use
of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions -- a policy
upheld in all health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment as well as in the Children’s
Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- and now in the
House-passed “Affordable Health Care for America Act.” We believe legislation that fails to
comply with this policy and precedent is not true health care reform and should be opposed until
this fundamental problem is remedied.

Protecting Human Life and Conscience

Despite claims to the contrary, the House-passed provision on abortion keeps in place the
longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective
abortions and plans that include elective abortions. It does not restrict abortion, or prevent people
from buying insurance covering abortion with their own funds. It simply ensures that where
federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions. The
public consensus on this point is borne out by many opinion surveys, including the new
Quinnipiac University survey of December 22 showing 72 percent opposed to public funding of
abortion in health care reform legislation.

The abortion provisions in the Manager’s Amendment to the Senate bill do not maintain this
commitment to the legal status quo on abortion funding. Federal funds will help subsidize, and
in some cases a federal agency will facilitate and promote, health plans that cover elective
abortions. All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions in a
very direct and explicit way, through a separate premium payment designed solely to pay for
abortion. There is no provision for individuals to opt out of this abortion payment in federally
subsidized plans, so people will be required by law to pay for other people’s abortions. States
may opt out of this system only by passing legislation to prohibit abortion coverage. In this way
the longstanding and current federal policy universally reflected in all federal health programs,
including the program for providing health coverage to Senators and other federal employees,
will be reversed. That policy will only prevail in states that take the initiative of passing their
own legislation to maintain it.

This bill also continues to fall short of the House-passed bill in preventing governmental
discrimination against health care providers that decline involvement in abortion (Sec. 259 of
H.R. 3962), and includes no conscience protection allowing Catholic and other institutions to
provide and purchase health coverage consistent with their moral and religious convictions on
other procedures.

Immigrants and Health Care Coverage

We support the inclusion of all immigrants, regardless of status, in the insurance exchange. The
Senate bill forbids undocumented immigrants from purchasing health care coverage in the
exchange. Undocumented immigrants should not be barred from purchasing a health insurance
plan with their own money. Without such access, many immigrant families would be unable to
receive primary care and be compelled to rely on emergency room care. This would harm not
only immigrants and their families, but also the general public health. Moreover, the financial
burden on the American public would be higher, as Americans would pay for uncompensated
medical care through the federal budget or higher insurance rates.

We also support the removal of the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing federal health
benefit programs, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicare. An
amendment authored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), which would give states the option to
remove this ban, should be included in the bill.

Accessible and Affordable Health Care

The Catholic bishops have advocated for decades for affordable and accessible health care for
all, especially the poor and marginalized. The Senate bill makes great progress in covering
people in our nation. However, the Senate bill would still leave over 23 million people in our
nation without health insurance. This falls far short of what is needed in both policy and moral
dimensions.

The bishops support expanding Medicaid eligibility minimally for people living at 133 percent or
lower of the federal poverty level. The bill does not burden states with excessive Medicaid
matching rates. The affordability credits will help lower-income families purchase insurance
coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange. However, the Senate bill would still leave
low-income families earning between 133 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level
financially vulnerable to health care costs, while it does provide more adequate subsidies for
households 250 percent over the federal poverty level. Overall, the average subsidy provided for
in the Senate bill is $1,300 less than the average subsidy in the House bill. We urge that the best
elements of both bills be included.

For many months, our bishops’ conference has worked with members of Congress, the
Administration and others to fashion health care reform legislation that truly protects the life,
dignity, health and consciences of all. Our message has been clear and consistent throughout.
We regret to say that in all the areas of our moral concern, the Senate health care reform bill is
deficient. On the issue of respect for unborn human life, the bill not only falls short of the
House’s standard but violates longstanding precedent in all other federal health programs.
Therefore we believe the Senate should not move this bill forward at this time but continue to
discuss and approve changes that could make it morally acceptable. Until these fundamental
flaws are remedied the bill should be opposed.

Regardless of the outcome in the Senate, we will work vigorously to incorporate into the final
legislation our priorities for upholding conscience rights and longstanding current prohibitions
on abortion funding; ensuring affordability and access; and including immigrants. We hope and
pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine reform.

Sincerely,

Bishop William F. Murphy
Diocese of Rockville Centre
Chairman
Committee on Domestic
Justice and Human
Development

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Chairman
Committee on Pro-life Activities

Bishop John Wester
Diocese of Salt Lake City
Chairman
Committee on Migration