Director, Domestic Social Development
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Conference call with news media, November 23, 2009
The Catholic bishops have advocated for decades for affordable and accessible health care for all, especially the poor and marginalized. The House and Senate bills make great progress in covering people in our nation. However, the Senate bill would still leave over 24 million people in our nation without health insurance. Whereas, the House bill covers 96 percent of those eligible for coverage, but that still leaves18 million people without insurance. This is not acceptable. Even if a final bill is passed that doesn’t cover 100 percent of all people, we must continue to strive for full coverage.
If a bill is passed into law, the very poor in our country will have access to health care through the Medicaid program. The bishops support the expansion of Medicaid eligibility for people living at 133 percent or lower of the federal poverty level, but again the House bill does a bit better in that Medicaid eligibility is expanded for everyone below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
The affordability credits will help lower-income families purchase insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange. However, the Senate bill would still leave low-income families earning between 133 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level financially vulnerable to health care costs. Overall, the average subsidy provided for in the Senate bill is $1,300 less than the average subsidy in the House bill. Improvements to the bill should be made so that low-income families have reasonable out of pocket expense for health care. No family should have to choose between safe and decent housing and health care coverage for their children. No family should face financial burden because of a health need.
Both bills include reforms that will strengthen families and protect low-income and vulnerable people such as eliminating denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions including pregnancy; eliminating life time caps; offering long-term disability services; and extending dependent coverage to uninsured young adults -- are significant steps toward genuine health care reform. We urge Congress to maintain these provisions.These moral criteria and policy objectives are not marginal issues or special interest concerns. This legislation is about life and death, who can take their children to the doctor and who cannot, who can afford decent health care coverage and who are left to fend for themselves.