March 4, 2015

Health care for millions at stake in Supreme Court

Health care is the right of every human person. Whether you run a multinational corporation, drive a taxi cab or are unemployed, you should not have to worry about how to get the diagnosis or medical treatment you or your children need. Catholic social teaching, rooted in a fundamental respect for human dignity, instructs us that health care is essential to human life and dignity.  For this fundamental reason, the Catholic Health Association has championed health care reform for decades, and we regard the Affordable Care Act as a giant step forward for our nation.

Now, as the Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments in the King v. Burwell case, the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, I hope the justices will leave untouched a law that brings health care to so many in need. Finding for the plaintiffs would impose a giant and disruptive step back for our nation’s long quest for health care that works for everyone.

Thanks to the ACA, approximately 20 million people who were previously uninsured now enjoy meaningful and affordable coverage. Much of that coverage is due to tax credits that the law’s opponents now seek to revoke in 34 states, based on a precarious legal theory that these credits are only available to people who purchased insurance from state-run exchanges.

 The ACA has already provided tremendous help. It would be an extraordinary cruelty to take coverage away from those people who have waited so long for it based on a tortured and misguided interpretation of this vital law.

My organization represents the largest group of nonprofit health care providers in the nation. CHA’s 600-plus member hospitals serve a high percentage of poor and otherwise disadvantaged Americans. I have seen the good that health reform has already done for these families, and I know how devastating it is when people lose insurance coverage, as nearly 10 million will if this case is decided the wrong way.

These 10 million are real people — pregnant mothers, cancer patients, men and women battling HIV, unborn infants, the tiniest of babies depending on neonatal care to survive—and so many others. And these are hardworking Americans: 81 percent of those projected to lose coverage work full- or part-time.

Eighty-two percent make low or moderate incomes, but are not considered poor under federal guidelines. All of these Americans are in danger of losing access to affordable care because of their state of residence, even though the framers of the ACA did not intend to treat people differently based on where they live.

Revoking subsidies would also be devastating to the health care industry and the economy at large.

Before the ACA, uninsured Americans made more than 20 million trips to emergency rooms each year, receiving nearly $100 million in health care services annually. It is widely agreed that this is the most expensive and least effective way to receive routine health care. These costs are passed along to taxpayers, employers, insurance companies and hospitals. Such significant costs limit the ability of so many hospitals to assist others in need, which can then threaten the health and vitality of whole communities.

Also important are the profound consequences that will follow for millions among us if the Supreme Court rules against subsidies that are both legally valid and working effectively. Undermining the gains we have recently made should be a serious concern for all of us.

The ACA represents an opportunity to create a health care delivery system that is fully consistent with American values, Catholic values and human values. I urge the Supreme Court not to squander that opportunity.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, is president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which joined Catholic Charities USA in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in King v. Burwell supporting the nationwide availability of tax credits.