ERLC analysis says House health care bill 'dangerous'

WASHINGTON (BP)--The health-care reform bill making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives "is extremely dangerous legislation to the health and wellbeing of most Americans" for a variety of reasons, the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics entity says.

The proposal -- America's Affordable Health Choices Act, H.R. 3200 -- would endanger the lives of the unborn and elderly, increase taxes and health-care costs, and extend government's reach into Americans' private lives, according to an analysis by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

While acknowledging the measure's 1,018 pages and voluminous citations make "it nearly impossible to figure out what everything in the bill actually means," the ERLC says it can report "with absolute certainty" the proposal "will lead to diminished health care for most Americans, less choice, higher taxes and unprecedented government intrusion into every level and aspect of society, from business, to education, to marriage, to individual liberty."

The commission posted the nine-page analysis on its website (www.erlc.com) Aug. 3 as the House began a five-week recess. Three different House committees have approved H.R. 3200. Some House members returned to their districts to face combative crowds expressing their opposition to the legislation at town hall meetings.

Health-care reform in the Senate is focused on the Finance Committee, where its chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D.-Mont., is leading an effort to craft a bipartisan agreement. The Senate went into recess Aug. 7.

President Obama, meanwhile, continues to urge Congress to act on the issue, one of his primary legislative initiatives.

In its analysis, the ERLC cites the following among the problems it sees in H.R. 3200:

-- The bill is certain to result in mandated, federal funding of abortion.

-- A program in the measure that likely would provide education about decisions near the end of life "could essentially encourage the premature death of the elderly" and could produce a "slippery slope that potentially leads to euthanasia."

-- Rationing of health care would result if the bill is enacted in its present form, and, even if the public option does not survive, rationing would be likely because of the requirements imposed on private insurance companies.

-- Government officials, rather than private citizens, would determine the type of health care received by Americans under the public insurance option established by the secretary of Health and Human Services.

-- Individuals and employers would be taxed if their private insurance plans are not acceptable to the federal government.

-- Hospitals will be penalized if patients have to be re-admitted, possibly prompting health-care institutions to keep people longer than necessary or to refuse to admit them.

-- Americans would pay higher taxes to fill a public health fund.

-- Private insurers may not be able to write new policies for potential customers.

-- The government would be permitted to access citizens' financial records, as well as their bank accounts for the transfer of electronic funds.

-- "Home visitation programs" would be established by which the government could make "voluntary" visits to families with small children or families expecting babies for the purpose of improving the "well-being, health and development of children."

-- An advisory committee led by the U.S. surgeon general will recommend benefits to be received by citizens.

-- A Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research will be established, which could result in therapies and drugs being evaluated on a cost basis instead of a clinical basis, critics have said.

The analysis explains how an amendment approved in the House Energy and Commerce Committee July 30 does not maintain the current policy preventing federal funds for most abortions but actually explicitly includes abortion coverage under the legislation. An abortion rights advocate, Rep. Lois Capps, D.-Calif., sponsored the amendment, and pro-lifers on the committee fell two votes short of defeating it.

"Though the amendment does not add abortion as an essential benefit, it does allow insurers to include abortion as a benefit and also allows federal money to be used for abortions," except for Department of Health and Human Services funds, which are barred from underwriting abortions, the ERLC analysis says.

"At this time, abortion is not explicitly defined as an essential benefit in the bill," according to the analysis. "However, the terminology in [Section 122 of the bill] is vague enough to allow for abortion. It could easily fall under the 'Preventive Services' requirement. An advisory panel appointed by a pro-abortion president is certainly going to come to the conclusion that abortion should be included in the essential benefits package. And if they did not, the courts are certain to interpret this new law in conjunction with Roe v. Wade and mandate abortion funding from the bench."

Congress passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976 to prohibit Medicaid funds from paying for abortions. The Supreme Court legalized abortion in its 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion.

The ERLC and other pro-life organizations have urged voters to contact their members of Congress regarding health care legislation during the recess, which ends Sept. 7. The ERLC has encouraged visits to district and state offices, as well as phone calls to senators' and representatives' Washington offices through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and emails by clicking here.

ERLC interns Brian Barnes and Jesse Williams wrote the analysis. Barnes is a student at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va., and Williams is a student at the University of South Carolina School of Law in Columbia, S.C. Barrett Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy and research, edited the document.


Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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