November 5, 2009

Faithcare Bill?

After having been relentlessly bombarded by the politicians and the media with facts and fiction about the bane of pre-existent conditions, it would take a lot of faith for anyone to spend their hard-earned dollars on health insurance. If faith is the engine driving the demand for health insurance, then the economist in me says it's only fair that the insurance companies reimbursed faith!

That's precisely what the Affordable Health Choices Act, S. 1679, Sec. 3103(a)(1)(D) does. To the best of my knowledge, it has not attracted the attention of John Stewart or Glenn Beck. Not as visible as the public option or the individual mandate, it has been introduced into the health care bill insidiously, but with bipartisan support:

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."

S. 1679, Sec. 3103(a)(1)(D) reads:

The essential benefits described in new Section 3103(a)(1)(A) of the Public Health Service Act shall include a requirement that there be no discrimination with respect to an individual who is eligible for medical or surgical care under a qualified health plan offered through a Health Benefit Gateway, thereby prohibiting Administrator of the Gateway, or a qualified health plan offered through the Gateway, from denying an 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). [emphasis mine]

It appears that this is specifically targeted at payoffs to Christian Science — the only institution whose form of faith healing enjoys tax deductibility. I suppose, however, that when it passes into law, this provision will elevate, Peter Popoff, Jack Coe, and James Arthur Ray, to the same pedestal as that of Christiaan Barnard, Louis Pasteur, and Jonas Salk. As it legitimizes Voodoo healing alongside vaccination, will the provision also cover the treatment plan that Thomas Muthee had ordered for Sarah Palin to drive the evil spirits away from her, so she could lead the real America?

Just last week, a French court had ruled against the Church of Scientology for defrauding its members thousands of dollars, by selling its brand of spiritual healthcare:

The case was brought by two former members who said they were pushed into paying large sums of money in the 1990s, pressed to sign up for expensive “purification courses” and harassed to buy a variety of vitamins and other forms of pharmaceuticals, plus electronic tests to measure spiritual progress. One woman said she had been pressed into spending more than $30,000.

In this country, there have been several recent cases of religious parents being prosecuted for criminal negligence, when they declined medical care for their children, favoring prayer and faith healing instead, resulting in tragic loss of lives. 11-year old Kara Newman of Weston, Wisconsin, died of untreated diabetes, when her parents chose prayer instead of insulin. Kent Schaible, 2, died when his parents trusted the reciting the words of their god alone to cure him of bacterial pneumonia. Terrance Cottrell, 8, died last year in the hands of worshipers and a priest at the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith in Milwaukee, while they were ostensibly exorcising the evil spirits from the soul of this unfortunate autistic boy.

There have been many more. In a 1998 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, Rita Swan, president of CHILD [Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty], and Seth Asser, a Rhode Island pediatrician, reported:

...172 children died with no medical care because of religious reasons in the two decades after states began exempting faith healing. Of those, 140 children had a greater than 90% chance of survival if they had been treated medically, the researchers found.

The faithcare provision is, of course, a bonanza for the insurance companies. Why pay the medical health providers thousands of dollars, when they can make do with a few hundreds of dollars to the witch doctors? And, what better way to deal with the mandated coverage of pre-existent conditions, than leaving it to god? The billion dollar question, however, remains: if the insurance companies were to cover faith healing costs, could they be charged as co-conspirators in the wrongful deaths of children? How about the Congress, and the President, if he signed this provision into law?

I suppose somebody should rescue religion, when its very existence is threatened. I hear, loud and clear, that the bailout epidemic has not ended in Washington!

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