Religious Nonsense in Health Reform

October 20, 2009

While healthcare reform is on the table, everyone is scrambling to get a piece of it, including religious institutions that see an opportunity to have their nonscientific, faith-based medical “treatments” covered under new insurance programs. With the help of a few allies in Congress, it seems that they may have already succeeded to a degree.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee version of the healthcare bill—S.1679—includes a provision as part of a nondiscrimination clause that insurers must cover faith-based, alternative treatments:

 

SEC. 3103. PROGRAM DESIGN.

[...]

(D) The essential benefits provided for in subparagraph (A) shall include a requirement that there be non-discrimination in health care in a manner that, with respect to an individual who is eligible for medical or surgical care under a qualified health plan offered through a Gateway, prohibits the Administrator of the Gateway, or a qualified health plan offered through the Gateway, from denying such individual benefits for religious or spiritual health care , except that such religious or spiritual health care shall be an expense eligible for deduction as a medical care expense as determined by Internal Revenue Service Rulings interpreting section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as of January 1, 2009.

At the very least this clause dictates that insurance companies (and if the public option passes—the federal government) cannot refuse to cover “alternative” medical treatments based on faith or spiritual beliefs. Under the provisions set forth in the bill, insurers would have to cover any treatment provided by a licensed practitioner, even if that treatment had no measurable or discernable effect on the patient’s health because any patient or health professional could claim that the treatment was spiritual or religious. This would include such things as Christian Science prayer and nonscientific medical practices. Potentially, this could even extend to Scientology treatments such as E-meter readings and auditing.

Currently, the Senate is in the process of merging the HELP Committee version of the bill with the Senate Finance Committee version—also known as the Baucus Bill—which does not have the same language regarding “alternative” treatments. However, amendment C-14, proposed by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Hatch (R-UT), also known as the Kerry-Hatch amendment, would, in very similar terminology, allow the same thing:

 

There shall be a requirement that there be non-discrimination in health care in a manner that, with respect to an individual who is eligible for medical or surgical care under a qualified health plan offered through a State Exchange, prohibits the Administrator of the State Exchange, or a qualified health plan offered through a State Exchange, from denying such individual benefits for religious or spiritual health care, except that such religious or spiritual health care shall be an expense eligible for deduction as a medical care expense as determined by Internal Revenue Service Rulings interpreting section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as of January 1, 2009.

The Senate is not the only place religions are infiltrating the health care debate, however. The most popular version of the House bill, H.R. 3200, also includes a discrimination prohibition that requires coverage of religious medical practices:

 

Section 125. PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTH CARE SERVICES BASED ON RELIGIOUS OR SPIRITUAL CONTENT.

Neither the Commissioner nor any health insurance issuer offering health insurance coverage through the Exchange shall discriminate in approving or covering a health care service on the basis of its religious or spiritual content if expenditures for such a health care service are allowable as a deduction under 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as in effect on January 1, 2009.

Now, one important note here is that H.R. 3200 also includes a fairly robust public option. If the bill passes as written, it would mandate that the government cover religious medical techniques, effectively allowing for government funding of religious activities. This would represent a clear violation of both the principle of separation of church and state and the establishment clause of the Constitution.

As health care reform winds its way through the halls of Congress, it needs to be based on scientific and proven methods of improving the health quality of all Americans, not wishful thinking (which is essentially what prayer-based religious medical “treatments” are). For more information on the Center for Inquiry’s and the Office of Public Policy’s positions on healthcare, please read the CFI Positions on Health Care Reform .

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