One cannot read the gospels without being struck at how much of Jesus’ earthly ministry was devoted to healing. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, reports that “Jesus went throughout Galilee…preaching the good news of the Kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (4:21). In sending out his disciples he charged them also to “heal the sick” (10:7). Jesus’ concern for the poor is also inescapable. He repeatedly instructs us to attend to their needs. In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), Jesus proclaims that those who wish to enter the Kingdom of Heaven must care for the hungry, naked, and sick—the “least of these.”
Pope Francis has embraced this message. In May 2016 speech to the Doctors with Africa mission group, he stated, “Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health care cannot be a privilege.” He emphasized in particular the responsibility of Christians to care for the most vulnerable, a theme he again took up in February of this year, warning that the growing lack of health care “among the poorest segments of the population, due to lack of access to care, must leave no one indifferent.”
The American Health Care Act (AHCA), which was pulled from consideration before the House of Representatives on March 24, 2017, does not pass the test proclaimed in the Gospel and endorsed by the pope. It fails to help the “least of these” and reflects just the kind of indifference Francis has denounced. According to a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis, it would have removed $880 million in federal funding over a decade from the Medicaid program, which pays for health care for the elderly, disabled, children, pregnant women, and the low-income adults. Not coincidentally, it would have cut taxes by almost exactly the same amount for wealthy people, insurers, and providers. The legislation would have cut taxes for each of the four hundred highest income taxpayers in the United States by an average of $7 million annually—enough to cover premium subsidies for over eight hundred thousand lower-income Americans.
The legislation also would have eliminated by 2020 the Affordable Care Act’s income-based premium tax credits, which make health insurance affordable for lower-income Americans, as well as its cost-sharing reduction payments that reduce deductibles and coinsurance for consumers with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. In their place it would have established fixed-dollar tax credits that would have provided more federal assistance for younger and higher-income consumers even as it reduced the assistance now offered to older and poorer consumers.
The legislation was pulled at the last minute, in large part because of opposition from Republican House members who thought it was still too generous to the poor.