GOP Congressman: Make Lawmakers Join VA Healthcare System

A U.S. Marine rappels from a UH-1N Huey helicopter during a rope exercise as part of Eager Lion 2013 at King Faisal Air Base, Jordan, on June 11, 2013. (Defense Department photo)

WASHINGTON – Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) suggested that members of Congress should be required to participate in the government-run Veterans Affairs healthcare system until it is fixed.

“Then we can stand in line with everybody else until we get it fixed,” Fleming said in a speech at the Family Research Council in Washington. “It is important that we have equity in healthcare.”

The Veterans First Act, which contains several changes for the Veterans Affairs Department aimed at improving services and holding officials accountable for mismanagement, is currently pending in Congress.

Fleming, a doctor, also said the Obama administration still has not protected the conscience rights of Americans despite the Obamacare debate surrounding federal funding of abortion.

Fleming, who is running for Louisiana’s open U.S. Senate seat, explained the Weldon Amendment is passed as part of annual appropriations bills but is not enforced by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Its purpose is to prevent the discrimination against healthcare providers and others who may be forced because of their deeply held beliefs, their conscience, to do things against, that violates that conscience — their religious beliefs — and that is the law, there’s no question about it. The problem is that today Health and Human Services refuses to endorse that law,” he said. “So those promises that were made by the Obama administration that they would protect life and protect conscience did not materialize.”

In California, for example, Fleming said taxpayer dollars are being used to subsidize healthcare plans that cover abortion services. In New York state, Fleming said regulators are requiring that employer-sponsored health insurance plans include abortion services as well.

“As a Christian myself, as someone who believes in the sanctity of life, as someone who believes that life begins at conception, and I think I ought to know about that, I’m a physician,” he said. “The president said that was above his pay grade. Well, I can tell you it’s not above my pay grade. I know when life begins.”

Fleming has introduced the Conscience Protection Act that would provide a “private right of action” if HHS is not going to protect healthcare providers and individuals with insurance policies that cover abortion services.

“If they are not protected by that, then they can go to court and fight over that,” he said. “We’ve been working on this since 2011 and so far we have not been able to get it up for a vote but we’re very hopeful that we can do it this year.”

“Paul Ryan specifically has indicated he is very interested in moving this, but I think it takes a groundswell of support from the country in order to get this done,” he added.

Under the bill, federal, state or local governments that receive federal financial assistance “may not penalize, retaliate against, or otherwise discriminate against a health care provider on the basis that the provider does not perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion; provide or sponsor abortion coverage.”

Fleming said now is the time to make the Weldon Amendment permanent law.

“Either the government does what it is supposed to do and enforce its own laws or you can go to courts,” he said.