Protect the Health Care of Poor and Vulnerable Americans! Sheila Gilbert, National President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA, presents the position of the Society.

Dear Vincentian,

I write to urge you to immediately contact your US Senators and Representative to ask them to refrain from repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without a suitable, comprehensive replacement.

Following a “repeal and delay” strategy, as is presently being considered in the opening days of the 115th Congress, is not acceptable.  It risks wholesale disruption to the health care insurance system and the possible loss of coverage to millions of individuals, many of them the unemployed, the working poor, and the vulnerable who we see regularly as part of our Vincentian ministry.

A recent, respected study by the Urban Institute found that of the nearly 30 million who might lose coverage if the ACA were to be repealed, 25% have incomes below the Federal Poverty Level.  Another 30% have incomes falling between the Federal Poverty Level and 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.

Indeed, these are very persons we as Vincentians visit in their homes and see at our food pantries, clothing and thrift stores, and other places where we make available our special charitable services.

To be sure, the Affordable Care Act has serious flaws, and includes policies that violate core Catholic Teaching on life, conscience, and religious freedom. It also bars undocumented immigrants from taking advantage of its benefits. These provisions must be fixed.

In urging Congress not to rush to repeal without a suitable replacement, we are simply recognizing that the existing law also has very significant benefits which should not be jeopardized while careful, sensitive deliberations about ways to improve the law ensue in an open and non-hurried fashion.   All understand that our health care system is an extremely complicated one not susceptible to quick fixes without creating unintended consequences that could greatly harm those most in need of coverage.

From the popular press, you are likely very aware of the intense discussions now underway in Congress about this matter.  In short, a budget reconciliation resolution has been introduced which would allow Congress to repeal all the Affordable Care Act’s provisions affecting the Federal Budget, thereby gutting the Act’s financial underpinnings essential to creating viable risk pools, health insurance marketplace exchanges, and Medicaid expansion opportunities for states.  It is these mechanisms that have allowed health insurance coverage to be extended to those previously uninsured or underinsured.  But the budget reconciliation resolution does not include details of the replacement mechanisms or financing techniques.  Those, it has been promised, will be forthcoming.

The Society’s Position Paper on Health Care for the Poor states:

“Councils are asked to support and encourage federal, state, county and city efforts to extend meaningful health care benefits to the most vulnerable. There is no substitute for an involved, effective, and committed government.”

Both Catholic Social Teaching and our own Vincentian tradition have long recognized the fundamental right of all individuals to affordable and accessible health care.  Sending the suggested message appended to this Action Alert to your US Senators and Representative re-affirms this.  Please feel free to add your own personal story to the message or adapt it to reflect the situation in your state.  Click here to be linked to one-page “Fact Sheets” about how repeal of the Affordable Care Act under the scenario currently being contemplated in Congress would affect those in your state.  Time is of the essence!

Know, too, that as the Society’s President I am co-signing a letter being sent by many faith-based organizations to Congress asking that the so-called “repeal and delay” strategy not be the one we follow as we deliberate the future of health care coverage in this country; there are far better ways to approach this task.  When the coalition letter is formally sent, we will post it to the Society’s national Website for all Vincentians to read.

Finally, as we reflect prayerfully on this matter, let us recall that St. Vincent de Paul in 1617 was first awakened to his call to serve the poor when he was at a sick peasant’s deathbed and that Frederick Ozanam in the 1830s actively ministered to those sick in the streets of Paris with cholera.  We now follow in that spirit.

Peace and blessings to you all in the New Year as you continue your outstanding work on behalf of our friends in need,