Vatican City, May 4, 2017 / 05:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The House passed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a replacement health care bill on Thursday, but one bishop warned that the new bill poses serious problems for the vulnerable. Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the domestic justice committee for the U.S. bishops' conference, said the legislation “still contains major defects, particularly regarding changes to Medicaid that risk coverage and affordability for millions.”
In a May 4 statement, he called it “deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded.” “Our health care policy must honor all human life and dignity from conception to natural death, as well as defend the sincerely-held moral and religious beliefs of those who have any role in the health care system,” Bishop Dewane said.
The House voted on Tuesday afternoon to pass a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with the American Health Care Act. The bill passed narrowly, by a vote of 217 to 213. The American Health Care Act was introduced in the House in March, but ultimately failed to reach the House Floor for a vote. It replaced the ACA's individual insurance mandate with a 30 percent premium fine for having a significant gap in coverage. More tax credits would be offered and the allowable contributions to health savings accounts would also be expanded.
Bishop Dewane expressed serious concerns about the legislation although he commended its pro-life provisions. The sick and the elderly could end up paying far more for health care, he warned of the original AHCA bill in March. As the revised health care bill re-surfaced recently in the House, Bishop Dewane said that “serious flaws” still remained, like changes to Medicaid that eventually capped the Medicaid expansion and a lack of conscience protections for doctors and health care providers.
Revisions to the bill included allowing states to determine “essential health benefits,” or benefits that health plans had to include under the ACA which included hospitalizations and maternity care. Also, under the new bill states could charge more per person based on their health history, which the ACA forbade, provided they set up high-risk pools.
Bishop Dewane warned that proposed amendments “could severely impact many people with pre-existing conditions while risking for others the loss of access to various essential coverages.” The bill “as it now stands, creates new and grave challenges for poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants,” he said April 27. “The House must not pass the legislation as it is. Members should insist on changes, especially for the sake of those who are struggling in our communities.”
Several pro-life leaders applauded the bill's passage. “The March for Life congratulates the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the American Healthcare Act and for reaffirming their commitment to life,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.
Pro-life groups noted that the bill barred federal funding of Planned Parenthood and instead funded health care providers that do not perform abortions. These health care providers, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, “provide comprehensive primary and preventative care to women and girls.” That redirection of funding would amount to $422 million, she said.
The bill also established protections against taxpayer funding of abortions in health care plans. “We urge the Senate to keep these non-negotiable provisions and quickly advance this bill to the President’s desk,” Dannenfelser said.
The Christ Medicus Foundation (CMF) CURO, a Catholic health care ministry, said the new health care bill would “offer truly affordable, patient-centered health care.” “This is a hugely important step, but it is just the first step to improving health care for all Americans, especially the vulnerable,” Louis Brown, director of CMF CURO, said. “The American Health Care Act begins the process of increasing meaningful medical access for individuals and families across the country by returning focus to the doctor-patient relationship.”
And, the group added, “there is much more work to be done to protect the right of conscience and religious freedom in health care.” The White House announced on Thursday that the bill provided billions in funding for vulnerable populations, including $15 billion “for the care of maternity, newborn, mental health, and substance abuse.”