Moments before meeting to discuss proposed amendments to the bill, the bishops called for “a fair process” that would permit discussion of “an amendment to keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections.” Some in the House seek a “closed rule,” a procedure banning amendments from the bill.
The letter was signed by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, Chairman of the bishops’ Domestic Justice Committee, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chair of the Committee on pro-life Activities; and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chair of the Committee on Migration.
The letter follows.
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we write to strongly urge you to vote for essential changes and a fair process in the House of Representatives to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all. Unfortunately, the legislation moving to the House floor falls fundamentally short of this essential goal. We urge members of the House to:
· support an amendment to keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections and to oppose a closed rule that would prevent the House from voting on this crucial matter;
· oppose measures that would leave immigrants, especially legal immigrants, worse off as a result of health reform;
· support access for immigrants to the health-insurance exchange, regardless of legal status, and support removal of the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing Medicaid and other federal health-care programs; and
· support strong provisions that would make health care more affordable and accessible, especially for the poor and vulnerable, by expanding Medicaid to adults who are living at 150 percent or lower of the Federal Poverty Level and offering adequate affordability credits for households up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.
The Catholic Bishops of the United States have long supported adequate and affordable health care for all. We believe universal coverage should be truly universal, not denying health care to those in need because of their condition, age, where they come from or when they arrive here.
Protecting Human Life and Conscience
We are concerned because the current legislation before the House of Representatives fails to keep in place the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortion or for plans that include elective abortion – a policy upheld by the Hyde Amendment, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and other federal health initiatives. Without such protection we will have to oppose the current legislation until this fundamental flaw is remedied.
For this reason, we ask you to vote for an amendment that will keep in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding for elective abortions or for plans which include elective abortions. To accomplish this we also urge you to support efforts to guarantee that the House will have a clear and fair opportunity to vote on this essential matter. Please vote against a “closed rule” if necessary so the amendment can be considered. Currently, H.R. 3962 allows the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate that any “public option” will include unlimited abortions. The Congressional Research Service has confirmed that all money paid out by this plan for medical procedures will be federal outlays. Federal subsidies will also be used to pay the overall costs of establishing and maintaining private health plans that cover elective abortions. Millions of purchasers will be forced to use their premium dollars for abortion coverage they do not want, through a new mandatory fee. The creation of this “abortion surcharge,” a mandatory payment requiring pro-life purchasers of many plans to pay directly and explicitly for abortion coverage, is unprecedented in federal law. Such a proposal runs counter to the principles of the longstanding “Hyde amendment.” Affirming the Hyde Amendment continues the government’s long standing policy without affecting coverage of abortion in non-subsidized health plans, and without barring anyone from purchasing a supplemental abortion policy that is funded solely by the private funds of those who choose it.
Thus far, H.R. 3962 does not meet President Obama’s commitment of barring use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws. While Section 259 of the bill maintains essential nondiscrimination protections for providers who decline involvement in abortion, the legislation also requires each region of the insurance exchange to include at least one health plan with unlimited abortion, contrary to the policy of all other federal health programs; and conscience protection on issues beyond abortion have yet to be included in this bill.
Immigrants in Health Care Coverage
We support the inclusion of all immigrants, regardless of status, in the health-care exchange. Regardless of status, immigrants living in our country need to have access to health care just as any other human being. Finding ways to provide them with health care is preferable to compelling them to have access only to emergency room care which is an unfair burden on hospitals in urban and other high immigrant areas of our country.
We also support the removal on the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing federal health benefit programs, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Medicare. Legal immigrants, who work and pay taxes, should have access to such programs, if needed. Removing the ban would help ensure that legal immigrants, who were widely praised in past immigration debates for their many contributions and for playing by the rules, will still have access to health-care.
Accessible and Affordable Health Care
Because we support and advocate in favor of affordable and accessible health care for all, especially the poor and marginalized, we want legislation that expands Medicaid eligibility for adults living at 150 percent or lower of the federal poverty level. This will help lower-income families purchase insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange. Provisions in Title I (Immediate Reforms) should be helpful in providing relief to the uninsured and underinsured. The House legislation provides reforms that will strengthen families and protect low-income and vulnerable people by eliminating denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions including pregnancy; eliminating life time caps; offering long-term disability services; and extending dependant coverage to uninsured young adults.
These are not marginal issues or special interest concerns. They are at the heart of the health care debate. Our concerns outlined in this letter reflects our longstanding commitment to health care and our centuries old experience as providers of health care to all, especially the poor and the vulnerable. In that spirit we reiterate our Catholic tradition that teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity.
For many months, our Bishops’ conference has been working with members of Congress, the Administration and others to fashion health care reform legislation that truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all. Our message has been clear and consistent throughout. We urge the House of Representatives to permit a vote and to adopt essential changes so that, as long time advocates of health care for all, we are not compelled to oppose this flawed legislation. We hope and pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine reform.