IN FOCUS: Christian Science bills endanger children

UPDATE 12/20/2014 The EACH Act is dead — for now. The 113th Congress ended its final session without the Senate acting on the bill. The House had passed it in March, 2014. The Christian Science Church, however, is committed to getting a new bill introduced in the new 114th Congress which begins in January, 2015. CHILD expects it will need its members and supporters to be vigilant and active on this matter in the coming year, especially since the Senate is now under the control of a party often supportive of the Christian Science lobby’s initiatives.

UPDATE 4/24/2014: CHILD President’s op-ed in the Louisville Courier-Journal: “Don’t allow kids’ health exception”

UPDATE 4/1/2014: CHILD President, Rita Swan, speaks to the bill on NPR’s “Here and Now”

UPDATE 3/18/2014: CHILD’S letter to Senators

UPDATE 3/11/2014: ACLU letter opposing the EACH ACT
Representatives Waxman and Levin speak against the EACH Act on House floor

UPDATE 3/11/2014: The U.S. House of Representatives passed HR1814 by voice vote today, therefore, their votes will not be recorded. The bill gives everyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” against medical care an exemption from purchasing health insurance.

For more details on the proceedings, as well as what the next steps in the Senate are, see this letter from CHILD’s President. Also, a video of the debate can be seen at CSPAN House Session Part II. The discussion of HR1814 begins at about one hour into proceedings

INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT: Massachusetts religious exemption brings in fraud and waste

Proponents of the EACH Act are proclaiming that a similar religious exemption in Massachusetts’ health care reform law works beautifully and therefore so would a federal religious exemption. But the Massachusetts’ Inspector General report published less than three weeks ago underscores CHILD’s arguments against passage of such a law. The IG found many fraudulent claims which the Massachusetts Department of Revenue had neither time nor resources to enforce. Based on the experience in Massachusetts, the IRS would have a similarly enormous task enforcing the EACH Act, which could range from reviewing medical bills to determining the sincerity of someone’s religious beliefs. And just how would the IRS do that?

Please oppose HR1814 and S.862:
HR1814 text and information
S.862 text and information
Find your Representative
Find your Senators

Dear CHILD Members and Friends,

The Christian Science church is pushing hard to get another religious exemption through Congress. It has even scheduled a first-ever national call-in day on March 11 and is asking all its members to call their federal legislators and urge votes for HR1814 and S.862. Benignly named the Equitable Access to Care and Health (EACH) Act, these bills exempt everyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” against medical health care from the mandate to buy health insurance.

We are particularly concerned about uninsured children. Our organization has information on hundreds of American children who have died because of their family’s religious objections to medical care.  There are, for example, 177 minor children and stillborns buried in just one of the cemeteries used by the Idaho congregations of the faith-healing Followers of Christ.  Many other children get to the emergency room at the last minute, and their medical care is much more expensive than it would have been if the children had a medical home and routine basic care.

Based on statements by and about some religious objectors, we think they would have gotten timely medical care for their children if they had been required to have health insurance for them. There is certainly evidence that children who have health insurance are healthier.  HR1814 and S.862 increase the risk to children in faith-healing sects and the cost to the state if the children do get medical care. The Christian Science church has lobbied hard to get 216 House co-sponsors for HR1814 and 31 Senators to sign onto S.862.  These bills are in the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees respectively but have not yet been scheduled for hearings.  With so many co-sponsors and with this national call-in day, there is a real chance they may get pushed through Congress.

We urge you to contact your Congressperson and Senator in opposition to these bills — ideally, on or close to March 11. 

The Affordable Care Act is a careful balance of many factors and requires a basically universal mandate to control costs.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the mandate is a form of taxation.  We need everyone to pay the tax to make universal health care a reality.

Some complain that their church members should not have to pay for health care that they won’t use.  But insurance works on the assumption that many in the pool of policyholders will not draw from it.  Most people with fire insurance don’t have their homes burn, for example.

We also have to pay taxes for many services we may not personally use.  Millions of Americans, for example, pay taxes for public schools even though they don’t have children in public schools.

Furthermore, almost nobody can be sure that s/he will never accept medical care.  Christian Scientists usually have medical care for fractures, prenatal care, and delivery of babies.  Testimonials in their own periodicals and in mainstream media indicate that many are getting medical care for other conditions also.  See for example, Paul Vitello’s article, “Christian Science church seeks truce with doctors,” New York Times, March 23, 2010.

The bills say a person’s religious beliefs must cause him to “object to medical health care that would be covered under such coverage” in order to have an exemption from buying health insurance.  It is unclear whether the person must have a religious objection to all the medical health care covered by the ACA or just some procedures and prescriptions.  When the religious objection is only to some procedures, as with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists, members of these sects cannot say they will never use medical care.

HR1814 and S.862 will be a great burden for governments to enforce and may involve the state in unconstitutional investigation of a person’s beliefs—whether they’re really religious, whether they are sincere, and whether s/he objects to all medical care or just some forms of care. Maybe the state will just accept anyone’s word that s/he has sincere religious beliefs against some medical care, which will be financially convenient for many people to claim.

It is likely that some will claim the religious exemption to save money but later get medical care at the public’s expense.  While the law provides that doing so forfeits the exemption, the forfeiture will be hard to enforce and the cost of the medical care they get may be more than the penalty for not having insurance.  Furthermore, they can claim the exemption again for the next year after forfeiting it one year.

HR1814 and S.862 are modeled onMassachusetts’ religious exemption from its mandate.  In 2007, about 9,700Massachusettsresidents claimed a religious exemption from the mandate.  A data match done that year showed that 745 of them had nevertheless received free medical care during the year.

The state has done no data match since 2007.  It relies solely on self-reporting by the taxpayers.  And, althoughMassachusettslaw states that religious exemptors who get medical care must pay a penalty as well as forfeit the exemption, a Massachusetts Department of Revenue official has told us that the state does not enforce the penalty.

We urge your opposition to HR1814 and S.862.  A religious exemption from the individual mandate would be expensive and difficult to enforce.  If the state relies on an honor system of self-reporting, there will be widespread abuses of the law.  Many will find it convenient to claim a religious exemption and continue to get medical care at the public’s expense.  The general public will perceive the exemption as unfair to the rest of us, and it will lower the pub­lic’s respect for the law.  Above all, the exemption puts children at risk.

For the children,

Rita Swan, President

Comments are closed.