The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sent a letter to Congress on Jan. 26 strongly urging members of Congress to “come together and recommit themselves to enacting genuine health care reform that will protect the life, dignity, consciences, and health of all.”
Noting that “the health care debate, with all its political and ideological conflict, seems to have lost its central moral focus and policy priority,” Bishop William F. Murphy, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-life Activities; and Bishop John Wester, Chairman of the Committee on Migration; spoke on behalf of their brother bishops and called for Congress to “set aside partisan divisions and special interest pressures to find ways to enact genuine reform.”
“Although political contexts have changed, the moral and policy failure that leaves tens of millions of our sisters and brothers without access to health care still remains,” the letter charged. It then presented the three main points in which the bishops, who have long held that health care is a basic human right, and have “supported adequate and affordable health care for all,” found the current reform legislation to be morally deficient.
These three points, which the bishops encouraged the House and Senate to include or modify in their pending legislation, are: the ensured access to “quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all,” as well as the retention of “longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or plans that include them, and effectively protects conscience rights.”
The third point is the protection of the access that immigrants currently have to health care accompanied by the removal of current barriers to immigrants’ access to it.
The bishops’ letter deplored the fact that the current bills “leave between 18 and 23 million people in our nation without health insurance.” It also encouraged the House and Senate to restrain costs and to apply them “equitably across the spectrum of payers.”
The bishops then reiterated the importance of including Hyde Amendment language in the final health care reform bill which currently “violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions.”
“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,” the bishop’s letter emphasized.
The current bills also are a step backwards in conscience protections, the bishops wrote. While the House bill has sufficient language regarding conscience protections pertaining to abortion, both bills are deficient in all other areas. Thus, “it is critical that the final bill retain the freedom of conscience that insurers, purchasers, plan sponsors, and health care providers currently have under federal law,” the letter stated.
The bishops pledged to “work vigorously to advance true health care reform legislation that ensures affordability and access, keeps longstanding prohibitions on abortion funding, upholds conscience rights, and addresses the health needs of immigrants.”
“We hope and pray that both the Congress and the country will come together around genuine health care reform that protects the life, dignity, consciences, and health of all,” their letter concluded.