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U.S. bishops to Congress: Fix flaws in health care reform law

U.S. bishops urged Congress to fix serious flaws in the Affordable Care Act, after the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the landmark federal health care reform law passed in 2010.

The nation’s highest court ruled 5-4 the law passes constitutional muster, but noted the so-called individual mandate – a requirement that all Americans have health insurance by 2014 or face a financial penalty – could only stand as a tax. Justices also ruled that states could not be penalized if they chose not to participate in the law’s major expansion of Medicaid, primarily to low-income adults.

A statement issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) noted the bishops "have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform to ensure access to life-affirming health care for all, especially the poorest and most vulnerable."

However, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has three "fundamental flaws," according to the statement. The Act allows use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover abortions. The ACA also fails to include a conscience clause for religious organizations, resulting in the current controversy of the Health and Human Services mandate requiring insurance coverage of morally objectionable abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization. The religious exemption provided by the HHS mandate is so narrow that the ministries of Jesus and Mother Teresa would not qualify.

Finally, the ACA treats undocumented immigrant workers and their families unfairly by excluding them from the opportunity to purchase health coverage in the new state health insurance exchanges created under the new law.

The USCCB stressed it is not calling for a repeal of the ACA, but will "continue to urge Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws."

Illinois Bishops David J. Malloy of Rockford and Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria both issued statements following the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ACA.

Malloy agreed with the USCCB, but cautioned the Church would remain true to her mission.

"We will also continue to work and pray for a resolution to those areas of the Affordable Care Act that are inconsistent with our teaching, may serve to violate our Catholic consciences and may interfere with our ability to serve those in need whether they share our faith or not," Malloy said.

Jenky noted the high court’s ruling does not address the HHS mandate or affect the dozens of lawsuits filed against the federal government by Catholic dioceses and institutions nationwide.

"The Catholic Diocese of Peoria is now considering joining other Dioceses and Catholic entities suing the Federal Government," the statement said.