Why do bishops still oppose health reform? - Catholic Courier

Why do bishops still oppose health reform?

It is a mystery why the U.S. Catholic bishops continue to oppose the health-care reform legislation that has already passed both houses of Congress and been signed into law by the president.

For a time, a handful of Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan, threatened to derail passage of the legislation because of language in the bill that they charged would pay for abortions. Stupak insisted that his position was the same as that taken by the Catholic bishops.

When President Obama issued an executive order making it clear that nothing in the bill would violate the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, Stupak and his small band of allies relented and expressed support for the legislation.

The bishops, however, did not change their opposition to the bill.

There is an article in the June 4th issue of Commonweal that argues that the bishops have misunderstood the health-care legislation and that their continued, if not also moot, opposition to the bill adds unnecessarily to the confusion surrounding the legislation.

The article, "Episcopal Oversight," is by Timothy Stoltzfus Jost, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

Professor Jost finds the bishops to be in error on three counts.

First, the bishops repeat their earlier claims that under the new legislation federal funds will be used to subsidize health plans that cover abortions. But section 1303(b)(2) of the legislation, entitled "Prohibition of the use of federal funds," states clearly that the premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions available under the legislation cannot be used by any health plan to pay for an abortion under the Hyde Amendment.

If there are private premiums, they must be kept in a separate account, and that account must be audited by the states. Given the added costs of administering these separate funds, Professor Jost points out, "it is likely that insurers will have little interest in offering such plans."

Second, the bishops claim that appropriations for community health centers (CHCs) under the new health-care reform legislation can be used to pay for elective abortions. This claim, Professor Jost argues, "ignores the plain facts that (1) regulations governing CHCs prohibit them from providing abortions not permitted by the Hyde Amendment … and (2) the funds appropriated for CHCs under section 10503 are not paid directly and separately to CHCs."

On the contrary, these funds are covered by the Hyde Amendment, and the president’s executive order reaffirms the force of that amendment.

Third, the bishops claim that the conscience provisions of the health-care reform legislation are inadequate. However, under the newly passed and signed legislation, federal funds cannot be used to pay for abortions and the consciences of health-care providers are protected.

In a subsequent "clarifying statement," the bishops’ conference acknowledged that the new legislation "expands health-care coverage, implements many needed reforms, and provides welcome support to parenting women and adoptive families," and moves toward the Catholic Church’s goal of universal access to health care.

Professor Jost concludes: "Public polling repeatedly reveals that Americans are confused about what the health-reform legislation does. The legislation is long and complicated, and some misunderstanding of the bill is inevitable. It is unfortunate, however, that this confusion continues to be fed by mischaracterizations of the legislation by the USCCB."

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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