Update: U.S. bishops say Senate health care bill will ‘wreak havoc’ on families

On Thursday, Senate Republicans released their version of a bill aimed at repealing the Affordable Care Act, drawing swift condemnation from one prominent Catholic health group, which said it is “strongly opposed” to the measure. Catholic bishops took a more nuanced view, strongly condemning portions of the bill that they say harm the social safety net but praising language that would restrict funding for abortion providers.

The bill would replace President Obama’s signature health care legislation with a law that relies on tax credits for low-income Americans to buy health insurance and would make deep cuts to Medicaid funding for states, which was expanded under the A.C.A.

“Just like the House passed American Health Care Act, the Senate proposal will have a devastating impact on our nation’s most vulnerable populations,” Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, said in a statement. “After weeks of working behind closed doors, and despite claims that the Senate would start over and develop its own legislation, there is very little that differs from the House bill.”

“We can and must do better on behalf of all those who rely on our nation’s health care programs and providers,” she continued. The C.H.A. represents more than 600 Catholic hospitals in the United States.

Catholic bishops released a statement on Thursday evening saying that parts of the Senate proposal would “cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net” and that it could “wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported.”

Promising to review the full bill more closely, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, head of the bishops’ domestic justice committee, said, “It must be made clear now, however, that this proposal retains many of the fundamental defects of the House of Representatives-passed health care legislation, and even further compounds them.”

“It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written,” he continued.

Bishop Dewane praised portions of the bill, however, which would temporarily freeze funding for Planned Parenthood. He lauded “language in the legislation recognizing that abortion is not health care by attempting to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or plans that cover it.”

He also expressed disappointment that the bill does not include provisions to include more coverage for immigrants nor conscience protections for health care workers and called on the Senate to “to make changes to the draft that will protect those persons on the peripheries of our health care system.”

According to an early analysis by The Washington Post, the Senate bill retains many elements of a bill passed last month by the House of Representatives, including the repeal of a government mandate that requires Americans to buy health insurance, the repeal of a rule that requires large companies to offer health insurance and large cuts to Medicaid. Both bills also temporarily freeze funding to Planned Parenthood, let young people stay on their parents’ health plan until age 26 and allow insurance companies to determine essential health benefits. Under the A.C.A., essential health benefits, which are regulated by the government, include hospital visits, maternity care and treatment for mental health.

The Senate version, dubbed the Better Care Reconciliation Act, differs from the House bill in that it does not allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

“The small tweaks made in the newly released Senate bill do not change the fact that millions will lose their health care especially through a complete restructuring and deep federal funding reduction to the Medicaid program,” Sister Keehan said.

A vote on the bill is expected next week, the Post reports. It would then need to be reconciled with the House version before heading to the White House. President Trump supports repealing Obamacare, though he recently called the House version of the bill “mean.”

The Senate bill, drafted in secret, would use the savings from reduced health insurance subsidizes to offer large tax cuts.

Sister Keehan in her statement urged Congress “to ensure that the funds currently supporting health care programs remain in the system under any legislative proposal, instead of being diverted for tax cuts for the more fortunate.”

“And above all, we urge our elected officials always to keep in mind the unborn and the many millions of poor individuals and vulnerable families who will be affected by any changes to our health care system,” she continued.

Last week, the U.S. Catholic bishops gathered in Indianapolis for their spring meeting spent close to an hour discussing proposed changes to Obamacare, warning that drastic cuts to federal health insurance subsidies would harm the poor.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has for months urged legislators not to replace the Affordable Care Act with a law that would reduce access to health insurance. An analysis of the House version of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office earlier this year estimated that up to 23 million more Americans would be without health insurance by 2026 under that plan. The C.B.O. is expected to report on the Senate version of the bill next week.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego said bishops must do more “to recognize the breathtaking nature of the assault on the core principle of Catholic social teaching” present in the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives, adding that “health care is a fundamental human right and government is its ultimate guarantor.”

“The Affordable Care Act for all of its flaws was a movement in favor of comprehensive health care,” he added. The House bill, he said, “is a movement away.”