Religion in Senate Healthcare Bill

This post is by Jesse Galef

The late senator Kennedy used to be quite good on separation of church and state issues, but he had a weakness for helping Christian Science.  Call me cynical if you like, but it might have to do with the fact that the Church of Christ, Scientist is based in Boston and has political clout.  Now that John Kerry is the senior senator in Massachusetts, he’s taking over where Kennedy left off.  The LATimes reports:

Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

Yes, this is obviously nonsense.  While I expected this of Hatch, Kerry typically gets it right.  But don’t be disheartened!  When I worked for the Secular Coalition, we were lobbying on this issue -  as it turns out, there was some positive news on the House side last week:

The Secular Coalition for America is thrilled that the House of Representatives has decided to remove language found in all three draft bills that would require private and public plans to cover the spiritual care of individuals with religious objections to medical care.

Today the House released their version of the health care reform bill that did not include language requiring private and public health plans to cover spiritual care for any person. This “spiritual care” includes reimbursements for payments that Christian Scientists make to members of the Church who pray for them when they are ill.

So!  Here’s where we stand: the offending provision will probably be in the final Senate bill – it has the cover of being a bipartisan effort and that chamber is less favorable to our issues.  But it isn’t in the House versions.  Before a full vote, it will be up to the party leadership to reconcile the versions – that’s where the real decision will be made.

There’s hope yet, although it would be nice if we didn’t have to keep fighting for minor victories in what is already supposed to be a secular government.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • Valdyr

    Please, let’s see some peer-reviewed papers about how “religious and spiritual healthcare” has consistent outcomes comparable to surgery and medications. I’m sure they must exist, or no one would have seriously considered trying to put them on equal legal footing, right?

  • atalanta_lite

    If they’re objecting to Medical Health Care, they should not be re-imbursed for NON-medical health care. Prayer is free.

    “medical” coverage is just that – coverage for “medical care.”

    what part of “no” don’t they get?

  • Miko

    That’s always been (one of) the dangers of a government takeover of the health care sector. Or any sector of the economy, for that matter. A secular government is one that realizes that people can disagree and that it’s not its job to take sides in such disagreements. As such, a secular government is necessarily a small government.

    When the government tries to force conformity in an area such as health care (or, health insurance in the current case), it’s necessarily going to pick sides. We end up with a system where the powerful win and everyone else loses, as opposed to a system where everyone can make choices for herself and hence where everyone wins.

  • Richard Wade

    This “spiritual care” includes reimbursements for payments that Christian Scientists make to members of the Church who pray for them when they are ill.

    Pay for Pray?

    How is the fee set for praying over a sick person? Do the prayer practitioners give a written estimate of the costs ahead of time, with different rates for different diseases, different amounts of prayer, different clerical qualifications of the prayer delivery specialists?

    Does praying for a recovery from cancer cost more than praying for a recovery from the flu? If they are taking government funding, won’t they have to submit detailed itemized descriptions of the “treatments” rendered and the costs justified by what is the fair and customary costs in the market at large?

    I’m sure all that documentation will be forthcoming.

  • Shannon

    Hey, I’ll pray for money. Who’s paying? Sounds like a good job for a stay at home mom ;-)

  • Mister Trickster

    Wow Miko, that’s strange logic. Adding a public option means less choice, you say?

    If only a system where “everyone makes choices and everyone wins existed,” but someone who can’t afford health care can’t make what you call “a choice.” I guess you just think poor people aren’t people…

  • Mister Trickster

    Whoops. The end of the quote should have been wins instead of existed.

    Either way, nice article, Jesse.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    Jesus F-ing Christ. I can’t think of anything else to say. Sorry.

  • beckster

    @Miko – I am trying to get pregnant and can only get maternity coverage from ONE health insurance company. Talk about choices. I would love to be able to choose from a for-profit health insurance company with a CEO making millions of dollars in bonuses and a non-profit public plan. I would choose the public plan, even if it cost me more and meant I had to wait an extra week for a routine appointment. As it is, I have no choice.

    If only prayer could prevent an emergency c-section. sigh. . .

  • sc0tt

    How is the fee set for praying over a sick person? Do the prayer practitioners give a written estimate of the costs ahead of time, with different rates for different diseases, different amounts of prayer, different clerical qualifications of the prayer delivery specialists?

    I imagine they’d have to see a prayer “gatekeeper” or primary prayer practitioner first who would give them a referal to a healing prayer specialist. Of course that would all be subject to the formulary of prayers covered by the public plan and the patient would still be responsible for unreimbursed prayer payments.

  • Matt D

    This is such bullshit.

    Dont think this is about religion – this is about ripping of the system.

    How easy would it be make bogus claims if you can claim for prayer? The prayee might even get some back from the church to cover any out of pocket costs. These slimy religious freaks are great at flim-flamming money from the gullible.

    This must surely be a stunt to derail the debate about govt funded health care (fortunatley in Australia we have a pretty damn good govt funded system).

    This cant happen – not even in America…can it?…

  • David

    Mister Trickster — Have you read any of the many, many, many articles on http:/www.reason.com/blog or http://www.cato-at-liberty.org detailing why health care is so expensive under our current government regulations? Or David Goldhill’s Atlantic article (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200909/health-care) or John Mackey’s WSJ Op-ed (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204251404574342170072865070.html)? I would recommend becoming educated on the subject. There’s a lot of good information there.

  • Loren Petrich

    So governments are the cause of all the trouble in the world?

    And how “small” should a government be? Zero size?

    Also, I get suspicious when I see such lame utopian rhetoric as “Everybody wins”. Do the makers of such rhetoric believe it themselves? I seriously doubt it.

  • muggle

    Might as well cover snake oil. Same difference.

    I’ll point out that nobody wins with anarchy. Nobody. Not even the big, bad bully that kicks everyone else’s ass and takes their stuff at will.

  • Pingback: Second Class Citizen Extraordinaire. — The Gaytheists

  • Freethinker

    I wanted to ask about your article. What about Native American healers and the use of Chinese medicine are these being covered in the Senate Bill? I see them as spiritually based but not religious and also they are not praying over someone, but offering alternative to Western Medicine.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X