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Bishops: Recognize harm to poor, amend Graham-Cassidy

Florida bishops also insist that three criteria be included in bill

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WASHINGTON | Florida's bishops have joined the bishops of the U.S. in asking that the Senate's latest proposed legislation on health care be amended to avoid harming the "poor and vulnerable."

On Sept. 21, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin called on the U.S. Senate to “think of the harm that will be caused to poor and vulnerable people” by provisions contained in the “Graham-Cassidy” health care legislation. They urged Senators to “amend the legislation while retaining its positive features.”

“The Graham-Cassidy bill includes a Medicaid ‘per capita cap’ that was part of previous bills which have been rejected,” said the bishops. “The Medicaid caps will fundamentally restructure this vital program which supports the medical needs of those most in need. Over time, these modifications will result in deep funding cuts and lost coverage for millions of people,” the chairmen cautioned. “Our nation must not attempt to address its fiscal concerns by placing an insufferable health care burden on the backs of the poor.”

The bishop-chairmen called on the Senate to keep protections found in Graham-Cassidy that ensure that no federal funds are used for abortion or go to plans that cover it. “This improvement is praiseworthy, and it is essential that any improved final bill retain these key provisions which would finally address grave moral problems in our current health care system,” they said. “We also applaud that Graham-Cassidy redirects funds from organizations that provide abortion.”

Cardinal Dolan is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Lori chairs the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Dewane heads the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Vásquez is the USCCB chairman of the Committee on Migration.

The bishops urged the Senate to work together to address looming health care problems for the good of all. “Decisions about the health of our citizens—a concern fundamental to each of us—should not be made in haste simply because an artificial deadline looms. The far-reaching implications of Congress’ actions are too significant for that kind of governance,” they said. “Instead, the common good should call you to come together in a bipartisan way to pass thoughtful legislation that addresses the life, conscience, immigrant access, market stability and affordability problems that now exist.”

Meanwhile, the bishops of Florida, in an Action Alert also issued Sept. 21, urged the state's Catholics to contact their U.S. Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, to insist that Graham-Cassidy meet three criteria:

  1. Strip out harmful changes to Medicaid that will wreak havoc on the poor and vulnerable, including the "per capita caps" and block granting (and sunset) of assistance for the millions of families covered by the recent Medicaid expansion;
  2. Ensure that this bill retains its current Hyde amendment protections for the unborn by prohibiting use of federal funds for abortions or plans that cover it;
  3. Include conscience protections for those involved in the health care system.

Florida's bishops wrote that the "Graham-Cassidy" legislation "will harm poor and struggling families because it risks loss of coverage for millions and will limit the quality of health care for those currently assisted by the Medicaid program."

"The legislation does correct a serious flaw in the Affordable Care Act by ensuring that no federal funds are used for abortion or go to plans that cover it, and it redirects funds from organizations that provide abortion," the bishops wrote. "It is essential that any final bill retain these provisions."  

However, they noted, "the U.S. bishops have been clear that: no repeal ought to take place without a concurrent replacement; such a replacement must ensure that those who most depend on affordable health care can reliably access it; it respects the dignity of all including the unborn; and that such a replacement plan must not leave the poor in worse circumstances."

The bishops provided a link where voters can send their message to the senators. Click here to go there.

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