Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2017 / 04:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bill drafted to replace the Affordable Care Act has good pro-life measures but still presents “grave challenges” that must be remedied, said one leading bishop in a recent statement.

“Laudably, the AHCA [American Health Care Act] proposes to include critical life protections for the most vulnerable among us,” Bishop Frank Dewayne of Venice, chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Domestic Justice and Human Development committee, stated last Friday of the new bill that would make changes to the Affordable Care Act. However, there are also “some very troubling features” in the new law, like restrictions on health care “access for those most in need,” Bishop Dewayne continued.

The American Health Care Act, currently under consideration in Congress and set for a floor vote soon, would be the biggest overhaul of health care policy since the Affordable Care Act passed under President Obama. It would keep in place certain provisions, like insurers not being able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, but would also phase out the expansion of Medicaid coverage from the old law and could substantially reduce Medicaid coverage.

Pro-life groups have in general been pleased with the language in the bill, particularly its stripping federal funding of Planned Parenthood for one year and its protections against taxpayer funding of abortion coverage in health plans. Pro-life groups are also concerned that the Senate Parliamentarian could remove the language from the bill because, as it is to be passed through the budgetary procedure of reconciliation, such pro-life language could be interpreted as not pertaining to the budget. These pro-life protections would be important, Bishop Dewayne insisted.

And the bill gives greater flexibility to the states, which could be good, although if it affects the “effectiveness or reach” of the “social safety net” it could be bad, the bishop wrote.

However, there are problematic provisions within the bill, Bishop Dewayne insisted. For instance, it lacks conscience protections that were also lacking under the Affordable Care Act. These could protect doctors, hospitals, and health care providers against mandates under the old law that they perform certain procedures like abortions or gender-transition surgeries.

Also, such a provision could protect employers, especially religious non-profits, against rules like the health care law’s contraceptive mandate that they provide birth control, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions. The most notable case here was that of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain owned by a Christian family who objected to the mandate because they believed that some drugs they had to cover in employee health plans could cause early abortions. The owners argued that this was a violation of their religious beliefs.  

Also, the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious non-profits sued over the process of how they had to notify the government of their objection to the contraceptive mandate, saying it still forced them to cooperate with the provision of contraceptive coverage against their religious beliefs. No conscience protections to nullify the harm caused by these mandates exists in the proposed legislation, Bishop Dewayne said.

Other provisions existing in the new bill are problematic, he continued. The Affordable Care Act provided federal subsidies for low-income persons to buy health insurance, while in the new bill tax credits would be provided. This new system, though, could reduce the benefits for the elderly and low-income persons and “appears to create increased barriers to affordability,” Bishop Dewayne said.

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate — a penalty for not purchasing health insurance — would be replaced with a 30 percent fine on a person’s new premium if there has been a long enough gap in their health coverage. This could dissuade many from buying new plans if they lose their old health plan, Bishop Dewayne said.

Also in the proposed law are higher comparative limits that the elderly can pay in premiums when compared to younger enrollees. Under the Affordable Care Act, those limits were three to one, whereas under the proposed law the elderly could pay as much as five times the premiums of younger enrollees. “Some studies show that premiums for older people on fixed incomes would rise, at times dramatically,” the bishop said.

Ultimately, the problematic parts of the Affordable Care Act should not be replaced with equally bad or worse policies, he concluded. “(I)n attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society,” he said. “As Pope Francis has said, ‘Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.’”