It is with grave concern that I view the latest bill proposed in the U.S. Senate to reform the Affordable Care Act. The Cassidy-Graham Bill, while happily maintaining the current Hyde amendment restrictions on the funding of abortion, shares with earlier bills—offered this past summer—major deficiencies. These deficiencies, criticized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Health Association, and so many other organizations, regard maintaining health care for the poorest and youngest among us.
Access to affordable healthcare for all Americans, especially for those in need among us, is one of the most important issues of our time, because it directly touches each human life. This is all the more true in West Virginia, where Medicaid expansion, a principal feature of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), offered access to healthcare for so many of our fellow West Virginians who previously could not afford to see a doctor.
The Cassidy-Graham legislation will completely eliminate the Medicaid expansion, which covers nearly 180,000 West Virginians. It will get rid of tax credits that enable more than 34,000 of our fellow citizens to afford coverage. Indeed, by 2027 the bill will have eliminated $2 billion of health coverage of all West Virginians. The bill will seriously weaken our ability to address the opioid crisis and will devastate West Virginia’s rural communities and hospitals.
Our legislators should not pursue a repeal of the Affordable Care Act with a replacement plan that nationally will harm millions of poor and vulnerable people. Our senators should fix problems with the Affordable Care Act in a bipartisan way: by extending full Hyde Amendment protections to the ACA, enacting laws that protect the conscience rights of all stakeholders in health care, protecting religious freedom, and passing legislation that begins to remove current and impending barriers to access and affordability, particularly for those most in need.
In fact, such bipartisan efforts for reform are happening in the Senate. The Senate should allow time for these negotiations, aimed at the good of all, bear fruit rather than rushing through the bill on offer.
One need not be a follower of Christ, He who healed the sick and blessed the poor, to seek a health care bill which truly upholds the common good of all. One simply needs to have concern for the health of all our citizens. Let us urge our senators to engage in a deliberate process to achieve a bill which brings health care reform protecting even the weakest among us.
Entrusting you to the care of Our Lady, Help of the Sick,
Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield
Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston