by Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director
As a Church we have long been concerned about the poor and the sick in our society. When the discussions took place during President Obama’s administration on what ultimately resulted in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Bishops of the United States weighed in on a number of issues. The Bishops saw the welfare of the sick as a life issue. Pope John Paul II included health insurance in the list of the “rights of workers,” alongside social security, pensions and compensation in case of accidents, in his Encyclical Centesimus Annus on the occasion of the centenary of Pope Leo XIII landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum promulgated in 1891. While there have been some problems and concerns with the ACA there have been many positive elements of the act that has given access to healthcare to millions of Americans, especially the poor.
One of President Donald Trump’s first acts as president, just hours after his inauguration, was an executive order instructing federal agencies to “minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” of the Affordable Care Act. The president can’t repeal it on his own in spite of his promises during the campaign—it is up to Congress. As Congress discusses a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, the Chair of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, is urging members of the House and Senate to provide a replacement plan concurrently so that millions of Americans will continue to have access to vital health care.
In a letter sent to members of the U. S. House of Representatives and the U. S. Senate on January 18, 2017, Bishop Dewane wrote that repealing the ACA should not be undertaken without simultaneous passage of a replacement plan that will continue healthcare access for those who rely on it for their well-being. At the same time the letter also underscores the importance of creating a replacement plan that will safeguard human life from conception to natural death while also protecting conscience rights and adequate healthcare services for the poor including healthcare for immigrants.
The full text of the letter sent to the U.S. Senate/U.S. House of Representatives is available at the USCCB website.