WASHINGTON (USCCB) — Officials of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) saw mixed results when the Senate Finance Committee completed voting on amendment to its proposed health care reform bill this week.
In a recent letter to the Senate, the USCCB had called for improvements in the bill to meet the bishops’ key criteria for genuine health care reform: protecting life and dignity, affordability, and inclusion of immigrants. For the text of this letter see www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/2009-09-30-healthcare-letter-senate.pdf.
The Committee rejected pro-life amendments offered by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) which the USCCB supported. One amendment would write into this bill the abortion funding policy that has long governed all federal health programs: no federal subsidies for benefits packages that cover abortion, with rare exceptions; insurers could offer supplemental abortion policies if they were funded solely by the private premiums of those choosing to purchase them. Another amendment would forbid federal agencies, and state and local governments receiving federal funds under this bill, to discriminate against health care providers that decline to perform, refer for, or pay for abortions.
“The bill remains deeply flawed on these issues and must be corrected,” said Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. “It is especially disheartening that the Senate committee would not even support longstanding conscience language on abortion that has already been accepted as part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health care reform bill.”
The USCCB’s recent letter had said that “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.” Doerflinger said this remains true, so “these problems must be corrected on the House and Senate floor.”
On affordability, Kathy Saile, Director of Domestic Social Development for the USCCB, said the bill took some steps toward making health care more affordable, but that “many families are still vulnerable to high health care costs. As Congress continues to debate health care reform, it should take further steps to help at-risk poor and low-income families and implement access as soon as possible.” As an example, Saile said, “Expansion of access to programs such as Medicaid should be implemented as soon as possible.”
On inclusion of immigrants, the Committee defeated amendments opposed by the USCCB, which would have placed additional restrictions on legal immigrants and their families from accessing health-care, but failed to improve the access immigrants currently have.
“Legal immigrants, who work hard and pay taxes, should be treated equally with U.S. citizens,” said Kevin Appleby, director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs for the USCCB. “It is counterproductive to the general public health to leave them outside of the system, unable to access preventive treatment and dependent on emergency care. The U.S. bishops will continue to push for affordability grants to legal immigrants and their families and a removal of the five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to access Medicaid.”
For more information on the U.S. bishops’ position on health care reform, visit www.usccb.org/healthcare.