Bishops: Senate health care bill remains unacceptable

Even after revisions, the Senate health care bill is still “unacceptable” in the view of Catholic bishops because of its failure to ensure that the poor and other vulnerable populations continue to have access to medical care.

Speaking on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Frank Dewane, head of the Diocese of Venice, Fla., said in a statement on Thursday, “On an initial read, we do not see enough improvement to change our assessment that the proposal is unacceptable.”

“We recognize the incremental improvement in funding the fight against opioid addiction, for instance,” the statement continued, “but more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill.”

The Catholic Health Association, meanwhile, said the revisions to the proposal “reinforces the fact that this bill cannot be fixed.”

“The proposed changes do not affect the core issue that this bill will ultimately take health care away from millions of our nation’s most vulnerable populations,” said a statement from the organization that represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals in the United States.

“For this reason we continue to encourage Senators to oppose this bill and to work together towards improvements in our health care system that will stabilize the insurance market, improve affordability and strengthen and expand the coverage gains already achieved,” the statement continues.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell released the new version of the health care bill on July 13, bidding for conservative support by letting insurers sell low-cost but skimpy policies while reaching for moderates with added billions to combat opioid abuse and help states rein in consumers’ skyrocketing insurance costs.

The 172-page legislation, the Senate G.O.P.’s plan for rolling back much of President ] Obama’s health care law, faces a do-or-die vote next week. Senator McConnell has no margin for error on the vote. Since Democrats uniformly oppose the effort, the bill needs the votes of 50 of the 52 G.O.P. senators to prevail, and two have already said they will vote “no” if for different reasons—conservative Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and moderate Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Over the past several months, Catholic bishops have opposed House and Senate efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. In a letter sent to senators on June 27, Bishop Dewane, head of the bishops domestic justice committee, wrote that the loss of coverage for millions of Americans due to potential cuts to Medicaid would be “devastating.”

“Lawmakers can address the very real problems of the Affordable Care Act by more narrow reforms, and in a unified way,” he wrote. “Removing vital coverage for those most in need is not the answer to our nation’s health care problems, and doing so will not help us build toward the common good.”

Last month, during their spring meeting in Indianapolis, several bishops condemned Republican proposals to undo the Affordable Care Act, pointing to the estimated loss of coverage for upwards of 23 million Americans.

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 some congressional proposals, adding that “health care is a fundamental human right and government is its ultimate guarantor.”

The Catholic Health Association said in its statement that the revised bill still put too many Americans at risk of losing access to Medicaid and argues that states, which would lose federal subsidies under the G.O.P. plan, would be “focused on ways to cut eligibility, benefits and provider payments rather than ways to improve care and lower long-term costs through innovation.”

“This is a critical time for the people we serve and especially critical for those who are the most vulnerable,” the statement said. “Thousands of our members have taken action to urge their Senators to oppose this bill. We hope that Members will listen to their constituents who continue to express their concerns.”