Bishops representing three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted a letter on health care reform Sept. 30 to members of the U.S. Senate. Excerpts are published below:
At their core, health care choices are not just political, technical, or economic, but also moral. This legislation is about life and death, who can take their children to the doctor and who cannot, who can afford decent health care coverage and who are left to fend for themselves. Health care reform especially needs to protect those at the beginning of life and at its end, the most vulnerable and the voiceless.
The Catholic community brings unique experience to this discussion. Our hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities provide quality health care to millions. Our dioceses, institutions, and ministries purchase health care for many thousands of employees and their families. Our emergency rooms, shelters, clinics, and charities pick up the pieces of a failing health care system. Our Catholic moral tradition teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity. These moral principles and our everyday experience lead us to work for three central priorities for health care reform.
1. Support long overdue health care reform that covers all people and protects the life, dignity and health of all. Health care reform that meets this standard is an important national priority and moral imperative. Reform should make quality health care affordable and accessible to everyone.
2. Support a fair and just health care reform bill that excludes mandated coverage for abortion, and upholds longstanding laws that restrict abortion funding and protect conscience rights. No one should be required to pay for or participate in abortion. It is essential to clearly include longstanding and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding/mandates and protections for rights of conscience.
3. Support effective measures to safeguard the health of immigrants, their children and all of society. Maintain an adequate safety net for those who remain uncovered. Eliminate the five-year waiting period banning immigrants lawfully residing in the United States from enrolling in Medicaid. Do not impose barriers on immigrants seeking to obtain private health care coverage.
The following criteria need special attention as Congress moves forward with health care reform.
• Respect for life and dignity. No health care reform plan should use federal dollars for abortion, or compel people to pay for or be involved in other people’s abortions. Longstanding federal laws governing other major health programs, including the health insurance program for federal employees, prevent federal funds from being used for abortions or to help purchase benefits packages that include abortions.
The Weldon amendment to the Labor/HHS appropriations act, approved by Congress each year since 2004, forbids any federal agency or program, and any state or local government receiving federal funds under the Act, to discriminate against individual or institutional health care providers or insurers because they decline to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortion.
So far, the health reform bills considered in committee, including the new Senate Finance Committee bill, have not met President Obama’s challenge of barring use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws.
• Affordability. Reform efforts must begin with the principle that decent health care is not a privilege, but a right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person.
Many lower-income families simply lack the resources to meet their health care expenses. For these families, significant premiums and cost-sharing charges can serve as barriers to obtaining coverage or seeing a doctor. The affordability provisions in the proposed Senate Finance Committee plan would impose financial burdens on low-income and moderate-income families and those families with significant and chronic illnesses.
We urge Congress to limit premiums or to exempt families earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level from monthly premiums. We also recommend limiting co-payments and other costs which could discourage needed care. We support the increase in eligibility levels in Medicaid to no less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level for all citizens and immigrants residing lawfully in the United States. Congress should incentivize employers to provide health care to their employees.
• Inclusion of immigrants. We urge Congress to ensure sufficient funding for safety-net clinics, hospitals, and other providers serving those who will continue to fall through the cracks of a reformed system.
(The letter was signed by: Bishop William Murphy, Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop John Wester.)