As Congress debates if and how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, many people have spoken out on how losing health coverage would affect various disenfranchised communities. Often missing from the conversation has been the relationship between the ACA and religion—and yet many religious communities either benefit directly from the ACA, and would be affected by losing health insurance, or have spoken out in support of the ACA based on their religious beliefs.
The ACA has been beneficial to pastors and other church employees who struggled to find health care coverage prior to the ACA. Christianity Today profiled how small churches often function similarly to small businesses, and face similar struggles around providing affordable health care to their employees. Many churches simply do not include health insurance as part of their compensation package, and small church pastors and other employees have therefore come to rely on insurance through the ACA. Many expressed concern over what they would do if the ACA were repealed.
Similarly, Sojourners has collected and published testimonials from Americans around the country about their experiences with the ACA, and many of the people expressing appreciation for the ACA were religious leaders and their families. These testimonials included ones by a Presbyterian minister who could not find insurance when he returned to the U.S. after nine years of overseas missionary work; the wife of a preacher whose church did not provide insurance coverage for their daughter’s pre-existing condition; and a pastor’s wife who no longer has to choose between buying groceries and going to the doctor. All of these individuals were positively impacted by being able to obtain insurance through the ACA.
There are also religious communities who support the ACA not only because it benefits themselves or their congregations, but because of their religious mission to care for people in need. The ACA has helped the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and legal non-citizens have greater access to health care than ever before. As a result, representatives from a wide array of religious traditions have spoken out in support of the ACA as a means of continuing to provide insurance to the poor.
A surprising source of support for the ACA has come from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who last month sent a letter to Congress urging them not to repeal the ACA without having a replacement plan. They wrote that “a repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act ought not be undertaken without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for their wellbeing.” In the past the USCCB has been opposed to the ACA largely because it covers abortion and other reproductive health services and included a mandate requiring insurance to cover contraception. In spite of these earlier objections, the USCCB and other Catholic institutions recognized the importance of continuing to provide health insurance to Americans, particularly those without the resources to get this insurance through other channels.
As the debate over the ACA continues, it is important to remember that repealing the ACA without having a plan to replace it can have serious consequences both for religious communities themselves, and for the values around protecting those in need that are at the foundation of many religions’ missions.