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Religion's Intrusion into Health Care Reform

Posted Nov 09 2009 10:01pm

category_bug_politics.gif So the House finally passed a health care reform bill late Saturday night. Barely. The vote was 220 to 215. I felt more relief than elation.

Now the Senate needs to produce a merged bill to vote on and then another round of merging the House and Senate bills before another vote.

It is a discouraging process to watch. If you tune in to any congressional debate, you know what an embarrassment many of our lawmakers are. This time, several shouted "Objection" again and again interrupting normal procedural statements from other members and continued to do so after being called out of order. Let's send them all back to kindergarten.

It was an historic day in that in decades of trying, health care reform has never gotten this far before, but it was at the expense of women. The Stupak amendment, adopted in a 240-194 vote, extends to the public option in the bill the long-established prohibition against using federal funds (allocated through Health and Human Services) for abortion procedures. It also restricts use of federal affordability funds to purchase policies on the exchanges that include abortion coverage. Read more here.

We can only hope that the Senate has a better handle on Roe v. Wade and that a woman's right to choose will prevail, but don't count on it. Last week, I was surprised, shocked even, to discover that two of the three bills that will be merged into one in the Senate would raise faith healing to the level of clinical medicine.

The provision would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual health care” and would require insurers to consider covering such non-medical procedures as prayer treatments such as those used in the Christian Science Church.

This is not a new idea. Three years ago, when the state of Massachusetts instituted statewide universal health care, the Christian Science Church successfully lobbied for a provision that allows people to opt out of the mandated coverage for religious reasons. Soon thereafter, the church was again successful in securing reimbursement through taxpayer dollars for faith healing treatments.

To her credit, House Leader Nancy Pelosi stripped similar provisions from the House reform bill after several representatives objected on grounds of separation of church and state. That alone should put an end to such nonsense as government funded prayer treatment but Phil Davis, described in the Los Angeles Times as a senior official of the Christian Science Church, says prayer is an “effective alternative to conventional healthcare.”

“'We are making the case for this, believing there is a connection between healthcare and spirituality,' said Davis, who distributed 11,000 letters last week to Senate officials urging support for the measure.

"'We think this is an important aspect of the solution, when you are talking about not only keeping the cost down, but finding effective healthcare,' he said.”

Well, we can agree on the cost part. For those as ignorant as I was about Christian Science, apparently, “trained prayer practitioners” are paid $20 to $40 a day by patients to pray for them and the Church's newsletter regularly publishes testimonials from those who say prayer cured their prostate cancer, breast lumps and assorted other serious conditions.

To my further surprise, there is additional precedent for government sanction of prayer as medical treatment. According to the same Los Angeles Times story:

”The Internal Revenue Service allows the cost of the prayer sessions to be counted among itemized medical expenses for income tax purposes - one of the only (sic) religious treatments explicitly identified as deductible by the IRS. Some federal medical insurance programs, including those for military families, also reimburse for prayer treatment.”

In other words, you and I and all taxpayers are being forced to make donations with our tax dollars to support religious organizations with which we have no affiliation to practice woo-woo medicine.

People should do all the praying they want, but not paid for with federal money. If this provision is allowed to stand in the health care reform bill that eventually emerges from Congress, what can stop anyone from declaring their religious practice to be on a par with science-based health care and demanding reimbursement?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: Old Letters, Old Friends

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