Health care legislation needs ‘essential changes,’ bishops say

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston

.- The U.S. Catholic bishops have said that the proposed health care bill is “deficient” and needs “essential changes” because it lacks longstanding federal restrictions on abortion funding, hinders immigrants’ access to health care, and falls short of total coverage.Congress and the Obama Administration should create legislation that “truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all,” wrote Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Bishop of Rockville Centre William Murphy and Bishop of Salt Lake City John Wester in a Dec. 22 letter to members of the Senate.

Writing before the Senate’s Christmas Eve vote that approved the proposed legislation, the bishops lamented that the Senate version of the bill lacks the U.S. House version’s restrictions on abortion funding and Hyde Amendment restrictions found in other federal bills.

In the Senate health care legislation, the bishops said, federal funds will “help subsidize, and in some cases a federal agency will facilitate and promote, health plans that cover elective abortion.”

“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,” they added.

The letter cited a Dec. 22 Quinnipiac University survey which reported that 72 percent of Americans oppose public funding of abortion in health care legislation.

According to the bishops, the Senate bill “continues to fall short” of the House bill’s protections for health care providers that decline involvement in abortion and also lacks conscience protections allowing institutions to provide and purchase health coverage “consistent with their moral and religious convictions.”

The bishops also urged the lifting of the five-year ban on legal immigrants’ access to federal health benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. They endorsed an amendment by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) that would allow individual states to lift the ban.

Further, they said immigrants should be allowed to purchase a health insurance plan with their own money. Otherwise, they could be forced to rely on emergency room care. This would cause harm to immigrants and their families and the general public health and would also result in higher financial burdens, the prelates contended.

The bishops said that regardless of the Senate’s action they would work “vigorously” to incorporate their priorities.

“We hope and pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine reform,” their letter concluded.

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