Politics, courts involved in U.S. health care’s 2016 diagnosis
Mercy Sister Karen Schneider, a pediatrician, talks with the mother of a child in the emergency room at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 2014. (Credit:CNS file/Bob Roller.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. health care seemed stuck in the waiting room for part of the year, holding out for its future prognosis from courtroom and political decisions.

During the election year talk, health care as a whole was not a top issue as it competed against the economy, terrorism, foreign policy, gun control and immigration.

What did come up was the Affordable Care Act, which became law in 2010, and was fully implemented in 2015 and has already been upheld twice by the U.S. Supreme Court.

For now, the future of the health care law remains unclear until the new administration takes control in the new year. President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal and replace the law.

The Catholic Church has had concerns with the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Catholic bishops and Catholic hospitals have long emphasized that the poor and vulnerable must have access to health care, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a 2010 letter to Congress, stressed that health care is “a basic human right” and “universal coverage should be truly universal.”

The health care law through federal and state exchanges allows people even with limited income to get subsidies to have a health care plan.

But there are still questions about coverage of abortion by health care plans and for church leaders, a major sticking point with the legislation also has been its contraceptive mandate – challenged in courts and sent back to the lower courts by the Supreme Court this past summer.

The dispute has been over the Department of Health and Human Services’ requirement that all employers, including most religious employers, provide contraceptive coverage in employees’ health plans even if the employer morally objects to the coverage. The mandate provides a narrow religious exemption for houses of worship.

Even though the Supreme Court hoped the two sides could work out a compromise, that never happened and lawyers on both sides have instead been applying for extended deadlines to work it out.

But the mood changed somewhat after Trump was elected in a campaign in which he said he is pro-life, causing the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious employers that had challenged the mandate to cautiously breathe a sigh of relief.

“Everyone is still protected by the Supreme Court’s order, but they know with a new administration it could change in minutes,” said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Rienzi seems confident Trump’s campaign promises to repeal some or all of the Affordable Care Act would very likely take the contraceptive issue off the table.