The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has renewed its call for Congress to correct problems within the 2010 health care law, now that the legislation has been upheld by the nation’s highest court.
The conference said that it did not join in “efforts to repeal the law in its entirety” after it was passed in 2010 and added that “we do not do so today.”
However, it argued, the Affordable Care Act contains “fundamental flaws” that were not addressed by the Supreme Court’s decision. Further legislation is necessary to fix the law’s problems with abortion funding, conscience protection and treatment of immigrants, the group said.
On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including an individual mandate that requires virtually all people to buy health insurance. The court ruled by a vote of 5-4 that this mandate does not fall within the acceptable range of Congressional power under the commerce clause, but it can stand instead as a valid tax on those who refuse to buy insurance.
In its statement shortly after the decision was announced, the bishops’ conference noted that for almost 100 years, the Catholic bishops have been advocating “for comprehensive health care reform to ensure access to life-affirming health care for all, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable.”
The group explained that while it did not participate in the case before the Supreme Court and “took no position on the specific questions presented to the Court,” it had opposed the final passage of the Affordable Care Act for several reasons.
First, it said, the law contradicts “longstanding federal policy” by allowing “federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover such abortions.”
Pro-life advocates have objected to the “abortion surcharge” that is required for all people enrolled in plans covering elective abortions. This surcharge must be at least one dollar per month, but can be significantly higher than this, as there is no maximum rate.
Furthermore, the bishops’ conference said, the law fails to “provide essential conscience protection, both within and beyond the abortion context.”
It pointed to the “preventive services” mandate issued under the Affordable Care Act. That mandate, announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have joined those of various religious political and religious backgrounds in speaking out against the mandate, warning that it poses a severe threat to religious liberty and could force Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations to shut their doors rather than compromise their beliefs.
More than 50 plaintiffs from across the country – including numerous Catholic dioceses – are currently challenging the mandate. Those lawsuits were not within the range of questions considered by the court on June 28, so they are not affected by the court’s ruling and will continue moving forward in the judiciary system.
In addition, the bishops’ conference warned, the Affordable Care Act is unfair to immigrant workers and their families, leaving them “worse off by not allowing them to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges created under the law, even if they use their own money.”
This contradicts the law’s stated purpose of offering access of basic health care to all people, especially the most needy, the group said.
“The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above,” it emphasized.
Stressing both of these moral obligations, the bishops’ conference urged “Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws” that remain in the law.