The National Council of Churches USA (NCC) has joined with the Conference of National Black Churches, the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference in issuing a statement in support of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other federal “safety net” programs that may be under threat as the new administration enters office.
Two Church of the Brethren ministries--Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) and the Disabilities Ministry that is a part of Congregational Life Ministries--have expressed support for the statement and for the ACA as a means for access to health care for Americans, and for vulnerable populations in particular.
This week, the US Congress in separate budget decisions by the Senate and the House, laid groundwork for a speedy repeal of the ACA. Although in the Senate amendments were attempted that would have retained popular provisions of the law, none succeeded. Attempted were amendments to retain the ACA’s allowance for children up to 26 years of age to stay on their parents’ health insurance, provisions supporting women’s health and related to combating gender discrimination, provisions preventing rural hospitals and rural health care from being weakened, and protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
BBT president comments on important aspects of ACA
“While the Affordable Care Act is not without its flaws, it is irresponsible for the new Congress to move ahead so quickly to begin rescinding the legislation without having an adequate replacement,” said Nevin Dulabaum, president of Brethren Benefit Trust. BBT provides health insurance to organizational employees within the denomination.
“Millions of Americans who did not previously have insurance are now covered under the ACA. People with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied healthcare. Young adults are now covered until age 26. And there’s no lifetime maximum or cap on healthcare claims. These are just some of the benefits that have been realized through the ACA, and even if they stay, the uncertainty of change in the healthcare industry to a new system is certain to negatively impact future premiums.
“If Congress and President-elect Trump want to replace the ACA,” he commented, “they should do so only after a well-thought-out plan has been designed and discussed, with the impact of costs and coverage known to all.”
Disabilities Ministry notes potential losses for ‘least of these’
Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries is as staff for the Disabilities Ministry, shared “sorrow” at potential losses if the ACA is repealed. “The church must speak out on issues like the repeal of the Affordable Care Act,” she said, “because the impact would be so great upon those we in the Christian community understand to be the ‘least of these’--those who are vulnerable, in need and without personal financial resources to address their situation.
“Many of these people have what is known as ‘pre-existing conditions.’ This can be anything from asthma to sleep apnea to cancer that has been in remission for years to physical disability or intellectual impairment.
“Many of us, our family, or friends have, in the past, been denied access to insurance because of this,” she added. “One of the greatest advantages of the Affordable Care Act has been removing ‘pre-existing conditions’ from access to coverage. In addition, many people with mental illness and chronic conditions have been able to access on-going care for the first time. Also, many self-employed and part-time employed persons who did not have access to insurance, especially coverage that would allow major surgery or cover pregnancy, are now able to be insured.
“To once again leave millions of persons uninsured and so unable to access the care they need is unconscionable,” she asserted. “What is needed is an expansion of the act to make it more affordable and health care more accessible, not a repeal leaving those most vulnerable in dire straits. Our Annual Conference statements (in 1994 and 2006) affirm the worth of persons of all abilities. We, therefore, must speak out on behalf of those who would be negatively impacted by the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. As Jesus reached out to and restored all who came to him broken in body, mind, or spirit, so we must advocate for our brothers and sisters in need.”
Eisenbise gave an example of a little-known provision of the ACA that is of importance for the disabilities community: expanded therapy coverage for children with autism. The ACA currently requires health insurance plans to offer coverage for autism treatments that are dubbed “habilitative care,” as part of the essential health benefits in plans sold to individuals and small groups.
“I am collecting stories of the impact of the move to repeal the ACA on families for the Disabilities Ministry,” Eisenbise said. “My hope is to pass stories on to denominational and ecumenical leaders to hold the church accountable to witness for those who are negatively impacted.”
Send personal stories about the impact of repeal of the ACA to Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries, at 847-429-4306 or email@example.com .
The statement from faith groups
Titled “Before the Oath of Office Is Taken,” the statement was issued on Jan. 6. It called for healing and unity in the nation, but also urged the incoming administration to “preserve, protect, and defend America.”
The statement expressed “grave concerns” about the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as other federal “safety net” programs including Medicaid and Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often known as food stamps), and Child Nutrition and WIC. These programs “lift more than 40 million people out of poverty each year” and “are proven to help reduce poverty and provide families in need, especially children and seniors, with food and housing security as well as with access to health care,” the statement said.
With regard to the potential repeal of the ACA, in particular, the statement expressed “grave concerns about a proposed policy agenda that, if enacted, would put the most vulnerable among us in jeopardy. Throughout Christian scriptures we are instructed to care for the poor and the most vulnerable. The Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid expansion, has given more than 30 million people access to affordable health coverage. While working to improve the ACA will benefit all Americans, repealing it without simultaneously offering a replacement is reckless and unnecessarily endangers the health of millions of people.”
The statement went on to note additional concerns about picks for Cabinet positions that have been linked to extremist and racist views that the statement named as “morally inconsistent with Christian principles of loving neighbor and antithetical to American values of ‘liberty and justice for all.’”
-- The full text of the statement is online at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfOeP_arO9SEcjYbVanGJg52YwMJMDXoJ0vX3L8hYh0-K0HPA/viewform?fbzx=-8945811722272475000 . In related news, 32 faith-based organizations also shared a 2017 environmental vision via a letter to the incoming administration urging policies that will safeguard God’s creation, address the impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable, and fulfill moral obligation to future generations in the US and internationally; go to www.fcnl.org/updates/32-faith-based-organizations-share-2017-environmental-vision-529 .