WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- As the Senate is debating a massive health care reform bill this week, the U.S. episcopal conference sent two letters to lawmakers urging them to respect life, make health care affordable for everyone, and give immigrants access to basic care.

In a letter sent Monday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the conference's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, noted that "the Catholic bishops of the United States strongly support authentic reform of our ailing health care system -- reform that will respect the life, health, and consciences of everyone."

The cardinal recalled that the episcopal conference has offered "three moral criteria for reform: respect for life and conscience; affordability for the poor; and access to muchneeded basic health care for immigrants."

"Thus far the Senate reform bill, in our view, has fallen short," he added.

Cardinal DiNardo stated that a major problem with the current Senate bill is that "it explicitly authorizes the use of federal funds to subsidize health plans covering elective abortions for the first time in history."

The letter notes that current U.S. law -- under the Hyde Amendment -- prohibits the use of federal funds for health coverage that includes elective abortion, and it also protects conscience rights for health care workers.

Last week, the Senate tabled the Nelson-Hatch-Casey Amendment proposed by senators Ben Nelson, Orrin Hatch and Robert Casey, which would have upheld current federal law.

"Health care reform is too urgently needed to be placed at risk by one lobbying group's insistence on changing the law," Cardinal DiNardo stated. "Before the Senate considers final votes on its health care reform legislation, please incorporate into this bill the longstanding and widely supported policies of current law. [...] Please give the American people health care reform that respects the life, health and consciences of all."


Another letter, also sent Monday, expressed "strong" support in favor of the Menendez Amendment, which would allow states to lift the current obligatory five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to obtain Medicaid coverage.

The letter was signed by Cardinal DiNardo; Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chair of the bishops' Committee on Migration; and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chair of the Domestic Policy Committee.

"Legal immigrants, who work, pay taxes, and are on a path to citizenship, should have access to health care services, such as Medicaid, for which they help pay," the bishops stated. "Moreover, providing low-income legal immigrants access to Medicaid would help ensure that the general public health of immigrant communities and the nation is served."

The letter continued: "Although the legislation provides subsidies to low-income legal immigrants to purchase health care, it does not guarantee that they will be able to afford such coverage.

"Families living in or near poverty, regardless of their legal status, may have difficulty affording co-payments, prescription drugs, deductibles or additional treatments not provided for in insurance plans. As a result, some families may have to choose between health care coverage and food and shelter for their families.

"For many, Medicaid is their best option for accessing health care."

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On the Net:

Letter on respect for life: http://www.usccb.org/healthcare/DiNardo_1214_letter.pdf

Letter on immigration: http://www.usccb.org/healthcare/legalfiveyears.pdf