US Bishops Urge Continuation of Health Care Debate

Request Removal of Anti-Life Threats From Final Bill

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 27, 2010 ( The U.S. bishops are appealing to lawmakers to carry the health care reform debate forward, despite political changes that have stalled the bill.

In a letter sent Tuesday, the bishop’ conference asked the congressmen to «recommit themselves to enacting genuine health care reform that will protect the life, dignity, consciences, and health of all.»

After the Democratic-majority House approved its bill on Nov. 7, and the also Democratic-majority Senate passed its own proposal for reform on Dec. 24, the bills were set to be combined and voted on this month.

However, last week’s senatorial election in Massachusetts upset the Democratic 60-seat majority, giving the Republicans enough votes to block the legislation and thereby changing the climate in which the bill was originally passed.

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, stated today that the lawmakers are determined to pass a reform bill despite the setbacks.

However, the lawmakers have the challenge of writing a common reform bill that is acceptable to both the Democratic and Republican congressmen.

The bishops’ conference sent their letter to encourage the congressmen to put aside political issues and return to the primary focus of going forward in health care reform.

The letter was signed on behalf of the conference by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, Utah, chair of the Committee on Migration.

«The health care debate, with all its political and ideological conflict, seems to have lost its central moral focus and policy priority, which is to ensure that affordable, quality, life-giving care is available to all,» they noted.

«Now is not the time to abandon this task,» the bishops said, «but rather to set aside partisan divisions and special interest pressures to find ways to enact genuine reform»

The letter affirmed: «Although political contexts have changed, the moral and policy failure that leaves tens of millions of our sisters and brothers without access to health care still remains.

«We encourage congress to begin working in a bipartisan manner providing political courage, vision, and leadership.

«We must all continue to work toward a solution that protects everyone’s lives and respects their dignity.»

The bishops acknowledged the «great progress» made by the bills passed in both the House and the Senate in extending health care coverage.

They noted, however, that «the proposed bills would still leave between 18 and 23 million people in our nation without health insurance.»

The prelates expressed support for «extending Medicaid eligibility to people living at 133% of the federal poverty level or lower,» but without burdening the states with «excessive Medicaid matching rates, particularly during the economic downturn.»

They urged the lawmakers to include the «best affordability elements of the House and Senate bills.»

Life and conscience

The conference expressed disappointment that the Senate bill in particular «does not meet our moral criteria on life and conscience.»

«Specifically, it violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions,» it stated.

«We believe legislation that fails to comply with this policy and precedent is not true health care reform and should be opposed until this fundamental problem is remedied,» the bishops affirmed.

They noted that both bills «pose a threat to conscience that is not limited to abortion.»

«That threat needs to be removed before any final bill is passed,» the prelates asserted.

«It is critical that the final bill retain the freedom of conscience that insurers, purchasers, plan sponsors, and health care providers currently have under federal law,» the letter emphasized.

It explained that «such a protection would not amend any other federal law or affect any state or local law, but instead prevent only the new law from imposing new burdens on conscience.»

The bishops affirmed the commitment to «work vigorously to advance true health care reform legislation that ensures affordability and access, keeps longstanding prohibitions on abortion funding, upholds conscience rights, and addresses the health needs of immigrants.»

They added, «These are not marginal matters, but essential to real reform.»
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