ELDER MUSIC: Promised Land
REFLECTIONS: On the Congress

Religion's Intrusion into Health Care Reform

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


We have the power to make our voices heard again. Don't get tired. Let the Senate know what you want in this bill. Maybe they could add an amendment that all those who sign up for public option have to eat Kosher food also and have to go to Church on Sunday and Synagogue on Friday nights. Give me a break. Go get them.Call the senate over and over and over.

I'd rather have a bill get passed that allows this than not get the reform.

What would really upset me is if they pass a mandate that everyone has to buy insurance but there is no public option. I don't want to see this become a bonanza for the insurance companies.

We need to get all our friends to contact their Senators and be sure that a public option is included and that religious views/practices are left out. Otherwise, health care will be even more expensive than now and fewer will be covered. Quite frankly, our President has failed us on this issues.

I, too, am shocked to learn about the Christian Science practitioners being paid their fees with insurance money.

The Stupak amendment is also a religious belief being inserted into the bill. Anti-abortion is based on the belief that the soul of a baby begins with conception.

Those 'strict constructionists' who cry the loudest about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights being absolute are the ones who make the biggest demands not built into those documents.

This is just one more example of how venal our lawmakers are. We should demand that the separation of church and state be adhered to.

And what about all those who are not cured by prayer? Where is that list? I have total respect for those who find comfort in prayer, and, in turn, want nothing more than to be respected for not believing. Please keep religion out of government.

The purpose of the Stupak amendment, like all the bureaucratic complications inserted between young women and doctors by anti-abortionists, is to punish young women for having sex.

These men in these churches and legislatures want to make the rules for people whose lives they can't imagine.

I'm disgusted that they seem to have injected another hurdle for poor women who try to control their own bodies. This worries me far more than the Christian Scientists, though that's wrong too. But it's a wrong of generosity while the other is pure woman-hatred.

Janinsanfran makes an important point that the Stupak Amendment affects mostly poor women - as does the Hyde Amendment still in force and on which this new one is based.

I will never be persuaded from my belief that no man has any business deciding anything about a woman's body.

We live in such a nonsensical country that I should not be amazed about the 'prayer' as healing addition but I am. So witchdoctors are out but hands on is in?

I have my doubts on what the House passed about it being anything but a bonanza for the insurance companies with nothing to help people on the low end of the economic scale. Everything seems geared to preserve the status quo plus.

If the government or the premiums pay these increasing health care costs without controls, we are in worse shape than currently.

Another of my concerns about what they pass is whether other than income will be considered when getting government help with those growing premiums. Should people like my husband and I who have a small income at the moment (Social Security), but quite a bit of net worth, receive government help on the premiums while someone with higher income but zero net worth receives nothing? I think it needs to consider the insureds whole package before taxpayers are asked to cover part of the cost.

From what i read, the Senate will filibuster to stop any public option (which without the insurance companies have a field day). I say make them filibuster day after day after day. This being able to say I will do it but not being made it do it has to end for both parties. It has become a way to allow a small minority to block anything but with no cost to themselves.

I'm a religious person; a person of faith...but these laws that allow such a blatant disregard for the separation of government and religion make me ill. Who was watching when these 'Christians' made a raid on our tax dollars? Well, I'm going to pray that we can have these things reversed...

I can't comment on the Senate's reaction to the passage of the House's version of the health care bill...it wouldn't be good for my health to be venting so much spleen. I'll need it for later in the day.

The most important thing is to get the bill passed. Once you have universal medicine up and working, then you can start arguing how much money to whom and in what circumstances. And those debates are certainly pre-programmed, but at least everyone will be able to make their decisions about health care on what is best for them and not out desperation or lack of choice.

(Sorry, but I had to shake my head at the concept that faith healing is paid for. Can patients sue the Church if it doesn't work or has side effects (hee!)?

What about the Maccabee's being told to eat pork?
What about Hindus being obliged (if it should happen)to pay for others to eat beef?
That's how those opposed to abortion feel about funding abortion.
It is an eye opener about healing prayer qualifying for deductions. But I have read articles about its double blind testing. It's effective and is obviously cheaper than conventional medicine. Interesting.

Thanks for this thoughtful piece. I believe in prayer, but also in the separation of church and state... and I'm worried about the power of the U.S.Congress of Catholic Bishops, whose efforts are surely a major reason why abortion coverage is being eliminated from the health bill. As I wrote in my True/Slant blog just now, there is no way a Catholic Bishop -- or any man, for that matter -- can understand this issue and the imperative need for a woman's right to choose.

Thank you for this information...i am stunned to hear aboutthe religious angle..

I wonder whether the inclusion of tax deductions for prayer-healing services will in any way open the debate and discussion on other "alternative" treatments in the future. Can it be argued that meditation is prayer? Can yoga meditation instruction fees be considered prayer-healing? There are are tons of research studies that support Transcendental Meditation as a healing modality; would it be differentiated from more Westernized definitions of prayer? And American Indian healing modalities? Sweat lodges? My drift is obvious.

When bills are being hammered out, it is typical that everybody's baby gets thrown into the bathwater. I guess it is just business as usual in the House, regardless of how historical the bill under consideration. If we've any illusions left, whether about how our government operates or about how our prayer-facilitators make a living, I guess it's time we seniors learn to let them go.

My take on the Christian Science church position is that we should keep church and state separated. That being said; If a true believer wants to pray and forgo modern medicine, let them. It will ultimately save the rest of us a few dollars that can be redirected to those with a more modern view point.

I have heard, but can not find on the internet that in the House's health reformed bill that parents will not be allowed to make negative remarks about other religions and can not teach that Jesus is the only way. IS this true? If so things have gone way too far and I will do my best to be sure H. Reid is not re-elected. I will work hard against him.

Heard Saul Friedman this morning talking about how he quit Newsday over their paywall for TGB! Loved it.
And on the subject of the House Bill:here's what I wrote. http://healthworksaz.org/the-house-bill-a-shocking-blow-to-womens-health/ As a foster parent, I can't allow teenagers to have children.

Thanks for the article. I am a prayer oriented person and believe in prayer. Its the belief that makes one go ahead. So I believe that if a true believer wants to pray and forgo modern medicines so let it be so.

Those of us that support the health care reform bill will not even recognize it once finalized. I'd suggest moving on to other more promising topics.

There's a book it would do all of us well to read. It's Joe Baegent's Deer Hunting with Jesus. It's a little depressing but to me it's a warning how much worse things could get before they get better, all in the name of religion.

I watched the House on C-Span, and could not believe my ears! This country is no longer one I recognize. Bob Herbert is right: we are dangerously swinging into a dance that is perilously playing with fascism. He did not use those words, but his meaning was close. I have the choked up feeling that Joseph McCarthy is giddy in his grave.

Abortion issues have no business in the Congressional law-making realm, much less dictated by a bunch of politicians. This is a matter between a woman and her doctor, pure and simple. I'm certainly not the first to say that if bodies of men were the ones that became pregnant those legislators would look at this issue quite differently.

I'll have a real concern about any health care plan that lacks a public option, but such a plan needs to be worded properly. Insurers are still going to benefit with public option and without such a plan they'll really "make hay" of the green $$$ variety. Worst of all, the private insurers will gain even more power, making bringing about needed changes much more difficult.

You're sure correct about the bill that finally emerges after they integrate the House bill and the Senate for a final offering possibly bearing little or no resemblance to what exists presently. I noted in my current blog post a quote that is attributed to President Ronald Reagan that I think describes the situation perfectly: "If an orange and an apple went into conference consultations, it might come out a pear."

I have been as appalled as you when I read there was an effort to mix religious prayer reimbursements into the health care plan. Unbelievable! Churches will form a long line to get on that bandwagon. Wouldn't be surprised if a whole new group of religions will emerge to join the line.

Will there be a requirement that any individual who chooses prayer-for-pay must forgo any other kind of medical treatment? I ask that, because members of that religious organization in question I know personally use both, and are intelligent enough to recognize any health benefits they receive just might be attributable to the medical treatment.

Personally, I believe that any prayer obtained as a result of $$$ crossing hands is corrupt and meaningless. It's no better than "payola" when radio disc jockeys were paid to play records fouling competition's legitimacy. I can't imagine any self-respecting God (by whatever name you choose to call him/her) wouldn't automatically disregard any prayers from anybody if they were purchased or received due to a "donation" having been made. Aren't there some things in life that can't be bought?

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