Bishop: ‘Fundamental defects’ persist in Senate’s version of health bill

| Mark Pattison | June 23, 2017 | 3 Comments

A man poses a question on health care to U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., during a town hall meeting May 30 in Cranford, N.J. “An acceptable health care system provides access to all, regardless of their means, and at all stages of life,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., said in a June 22 statement. CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters

The Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act contains “many of the fundamental defects” that appeared in the House-passed American Health Care Act “and even further compounds them,” said the bishop who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The Senate released its health care reform bill in “discussion draft” form June 22.

“As is, the discussion draft stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, said in a statement released late June 22. “It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.”

Bishop Dewane criticized the “per-capita cap” on Medicaid funding, which would no longer be an entitlement but have its own budget line item under the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The effect, he said, “would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported.”

“An acceptable health care system provides access to all, regardless of their means, and at all stages of life,” Bishop Dewane said. “Such a health care system must protect conscience rights, as well as extend to immigrant families.”

He indicated the Better Care Reconciliation Act at least partially succeeds on conscience rights by “fully applying the long-standing and widely supported Hyde Amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

However, the bishops “also stressed the need to improve real access for immigrants in health care policy, and this bill does not move the nation toward this goal,” Bishop Dewane said. “It fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country’s health policy.”

Other first-day reaction to the bill was negative.

The Senate’s 142-page draft “is not the faithful way forward,” said a June 22 statement from Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who heads the Network Catholic social justice lobby.

“My faith challenges me to heal the sick and care for the widow and the orphan. This Republican bill does the opposite,” she said, adding, “We urge a no vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act.”

“Learning about the proposed deep cuts in Medicaid passed by the House of Representatives, the American people looked to the Senate. Sadly, the Senate plan proposes even deeper cuts in Medicaid,” said a statement from Larry Couch, director of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd’s National Advocacy Center.

“This wanton disregard for human life must be stopped. Millions of children living in poverty, people with disabilities, and older people in nursing homes will be denied life-saving medicine and care,” Couch added. “Stop this vicious attack on the most vulnerable people in our communities.”

Sister Campbell criticized the Republican-only drafting of the bill, and the announced intent of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to have a vote on the bill before the Fourth of July recess, which could severely limit debate on the bill or any amendments.

“This bill is a crass political calculation carried out by 13 white, male senators who are out of touch with the realities of millions of ordinary families in every state,” she said. “Democracy works best when there are hearings, debate, and discussion to craft a bill that works for everyone, not just a few senators.”

“Ending the Medicaid expansion at a slower rate still means that millions of Americans will have their health care coverage taken away. Senators who support this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, the disabled, and children,” said a June 22 statement from the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger lobby.

“Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty,” Rev. Beckmann added. “Instead of making our health care system worse, Congress should strive to improve the system so that all Americans have the health care coverage they need.”

Network, Bread for the World and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd are part of the Interfaith Healthcare Coalition, which also includes as members the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness; the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism; the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative; the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries; and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The American Psychological Association also came out in opposition to the bill, citing the Medicaid cuts and permission to states to waive certain health benefits.

“This so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act is actually worse than the bill passed by the House, because it would undermine Medicaid even more severely, if a little more slowly,” said a June 2 statement by Antonio E. Puente, APA president. “Medicaid is a critical backstop of coverage for mental health treatment, and for millions of older Americans, children and individuals with disabilities. If the goal is to cover more people, why slash Medicaid when it is already much more cost-effective than private sector plans?”

One part of the bill cuts the federal government’s share of funding for Medicaid to 57 percent of its cost over the next seven years. States have picked up the balance of the funding to date.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the government had guaranteed that its funding for adults newly eligible for Medicaid would fall to no lower than 90 percent of their costs. Many states expanded Medicaid coverage for all adults ages 18-65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The bill would reduce tax credits to help people buy insurance and would defund Planned Parenthood for one year under the bill. It is expected the Senate will take up the measure on the floor during the week of June 26.

According to an Associated Press analysis, the Republicans’ health bill “cuts taxes by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, mostly for corporations and the richest families in America.”

The Better Care Reconciliation Act which would repeal taxes in the Affordable Care Act — popularly known as Obamacare — and structure subsidies for insurance policy-holders based on their incomes. It also would continue for at least two years to offer reimbursements to health insurance companies for subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income customers of Obamacare plans.

The bill would allow children to stay on their parents’ health plans to age 26. It also would fund $62 billion over eight years to a state innovation fund, which can be used for coverage of high-risk patients, reinsurance and other expenses.

The Congressional Budget Office is expected to issue its “score” of the Senate bill before the end of June.

The CBO’s score of the first House GOP-led Obamacare “repeal and replace” bill, which never came to a vote, estimated that 24 million Americans would lose health insurance over the next decade. Its score on the second bill, which squeaked to a 217-213 victory, estimated that 23 million Americans would lose their health care.

“America deserves better than its failing status quo,” McConnell said June 22 on the Senate floor when introducing the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

But calling it “mean and heartless legislation,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said the bill is “going to gut Medicaid. It’s going to take away care for our seniors” and “from millions of people across the country,” to “give another massive tax cut for the wealthy and well-connected.”

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  • Charles C.

    This is a more complicated issue than the article would have us believe. Rather than get into the numbers, which I’m starting to get bogged down in (and you don’t want to read), let me ask a general question or two.

    It is now a given that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in it’s present form is doomed. California and Vermont have introduced bills to create single-payer health care plans. Other states have looked at it as well. All have said, “Holy Buckets! It’s going to cost HOW MUCH?” And no state has adopted it.

    It used to be that the goal was to provide health insurance for all. Now, the goal posts have moved and the demand is for health care treatment for all. Currently, about a third of doctors refuse new Medicaid patients. How do you make those doctors treat patients if they don’t want to? Threaten to pull their licenses? The only answer I can see is to pay doctors enough to want to treat those patients.

    Currently, Medicaid pays providers 61% of what Medicare does. Do I see greatly increased spending in the Bishops’ proposal? Currently, Health Care, Pensions, Welfare, Education, and Interest take up 73% of the Federal budget. The rest is Transportation, Defense, Protection, General Government, and Other.

    The greatly increased spending, even without universal, government funded health care, is a source of real worry. As the Congressional Budget Office said this Spring:

    “At 77 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), federal debt held by the public is now at its highest level since shortly after World War II. If current laws generally remained unchanged, the Congressional Budget Office projects, growing budget deficits would boost that debt sharply over the next 30 years; it would reach 150 percent of GDP in 2047. The prospect of such large and growing debt poses substantial risks for the nation and presents policymakers with significant challenges.”

    Remember, we have to pay interest on that debt and interest rates are going up.

    So, to the Bishops and the Democrats in Congress, if you don’t like the Republican plan (and many don’t), what is YOUR plan and how will you pay for it?

  • Charles C.

    From Investors’ Business Daily:

    “First, the Senate bill doesn’t change Medicaid at all for three years. That means spending on the program will continue to grow, just as it is slated to now — at an annual 5% clip — until 2021.

    “What does that mean in dollar terms? Under the Senate’s “shredding” reform, Medicaid’s budget in 2021 will be $85 billion bigger than it is this year, and $209 billion (or 79%) bigger than it was in 2013.

    “What about after that? Under the Senate plan, there’d be a three-year transition to a new way of financing Medicaid.

    “And then, starting in 2025 federal Medicaid spending would be capped each year, with the cap set to grow at the overall inflation rate.

    “If you plot annual spending out over the next 10 years, what you see is that spending is never actually cut — at least not in the sense that most people think of a spending cut. Instead, it would grow at a slightly slower rate.

    “Even under the more restrictive House bill, Medicaid’s budget would still climb 20% over the next decade. So growth will end up higher still under the more generous Senate version.”

    Did Bishop Dewane and other “Catholic leaders” read the proposal? Did they understand it? I hope not, because if they did, they are intentionally helping to create needless panic.

  • Charles C.

    “The CBO’s score of the first House GOP-led Obamacare “repeal and
    replace” bill, which never came to a vote, estimated that 24 million
    Americans would lose health insurance over the next decade. Its score on
    the second bill, which squeaked to a 217-213 victory, estimated that 23
    million Americans would lose their health care.”

    What? That again? Anybody know how many people are currently enrolled in Obamacare? 10.3 million. And how many of those only signed up to avoid the tax penalty?

    I would be delighted and instructed to see evidence that twenty some odd million people would be forced out of an insurance plan that only ten million are signed up for.