Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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The prospect of American Catholic leaders urging their congregations to actively oppose an overhaul of the nation’s health-care system is becoming increasingly likely.
BY Rich Daly Register Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The prospect of
American Catholic leaders urging their congregations to actively oppose an
overhaul of the nation’s health-care system is becoming increasingly likely.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops promised to “vigorously” oppose health-care legislation under
consideration in Congress if changes were not made to bar public funding of
abortions and provide universal access to care, including for immigrants.
The pledge came in an Oct. 8 letter
sent by the conference’s three bishops working on health-care reform to every
member of Congress.
“If final legislation does not meet
our principles, we will have no choice but to oppose the bill,” wrote the
bishops, including Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia and
chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
The letter came just a few days
before the Senate Finance Committee approved the latest health-care reform
measure on Oct. 13. That panel at the beginning of the month rejected
conscience-protection and abortion-defunding amendments. One such amendment, by
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would have barred penalties for health-care workers
and religiously affiliated hospitals that refused to perform procedures to
which they were morally opposed.
“Without this amendment, I believe
that health-care providers who object to abortion could face discrimination,”
Hatch said, before the panel rejected the amendment 10-13.
Abortion supporters, including Sen.
Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., countered that health insurers would use the
provision to refuse to cover abortion under any circumstances, including cases
where the mother’s life was in danger.
The bishops explicitly referenced
the failed conscience amendment in their letter.
“No one should be required to pay
for or participate in abortion,” the bishops wrote.
Also rejected by the Senate panel
was an amendment to bar the use of taxpayer funding for abortions provided
through new publicly subsidized insurance plans. The amendment, which would
have required women with such insurance who wanted abortion coverage to
purchase a separate rider, was rejected 10-13.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the
amendment would discriminate against women.
The bishops’ threat to oppose the
legislation ratchets up the rhetoric in an ongoing war of words over abortion’s
role in health-care reform. It follows several weeks of abortion opponents
warning that all of the reform bills would vastly expand abortions by requiring
public funding and mandating that more health-care workers provide them, while
Democratic leaders countered that the bills would “preserve the status quo.”
“It is essential that the
legislation clearly apply to this new program long-standing and widely
supported federal restrictions on abortion funding and mandates, and
protections for rights of conscience,” wrote the bishops. “No current bill
meets this test.”
The Obama administration responded
twice the week of Oct. 5 that none of the health-care reform bills would change
federal policy banning taxpayer funding for elective abortions. During a press
conference Oct. 7, CNS News reporter Fred Lucas asked White House spokesman
Robert Gibbs about the bishops’ statement that the health reform bills have not
met the president’s challenge of barring the use of federal dollars for
“There’s a law that precludes the
use of federal funds for abortion that isn’t going to be changed in these
health-care bills,” Gibbs insisted.
Abortion opponents warn that the
current abortion-funding ban, controlled by the Hyde Amendment, applies only to
federal health-care money flowing through the Health and Human Services
Department. The amendment is subject to annual renewal. A new funding structure
that would be created by the health-care reform bills — as identified in an
Aug. 31 letter by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service — would
circumvent this long-standing federal-funding ban.
There was a follow-up exchange Oct.
9, in which Lucas clarified that “the
Hyde amendment is only for direct appropriations for HHS.” Gibbs nonetheless
explicitly repeated his denial.
The potential effect of the bishops’
opposition to the health-care overhaul effort could be serious, according to
others critical of the bills.
The conference has urged Catholics
to contact their members of Congress at other critical junctures in the
health-care reform debate, said Don Clemmer, assistant director of media
relations for the conference. And millions of Catholics could be urged to
oppose a final health-care bill on moral grounds.
“Ultimately, it’s the voice of the
bishops on the record,” Clemmer said about the bishops’ letter warning of their
The bishops have not provided a
timeframe of when they would issue a final decision on whether they oppose the
health-care overhaul legislation.
But the bishops are not the only
longtime supporters having second thoughts.
The lobbying group for the health
insurance industry released an analysis this week conducted by
PricewaterhouseCoopers that concluded the Finance Committee’s health-care bill
would add thousands of dollars in annual cost increases to the average private
insurance plan when it is fully implemented. The report caused serious
consternation among Democratic supporters of the health-care overhaul, although
they were unable to counter it with their own research. Nonpartisan
congressional auditors have been unable to provide their own cost estimates
that the average taxpayer would face under any of the health-care overhaul
The critical research paid for by
insurers followed months of support by that industry for health reform,
including millions of dollars spent on pro-reform television ads. An insurance
industry spokeswoman said it will continue to urge changes that will allow
members to eventually support an overhaul.
Other recent concerns have been
raised by the American Medical Association, which has been a high-profile
supporter of the health-care overhaul. The association formally endorsed a
version approved by three House committees in July. However, the physicians’
group recently raised concerns that a relatively small costs-saving measure in
the Senate Finance Committee bill could result in negative effects for millions
The provision would require a 5% cut
in reimbursements for all physicians who are among Medicare’s top 10% with the
Rich Daly writes
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