Although most provisions in President Obama’s year-old health care reform law won’t kick in until 2014, a number of changes have already taken place such as tax credits for employers, free preventative services for people on Medicare, and a provision that allows for anyone up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ health plan.
But something very important is still missing.
The law includes no provision for religious nonmedical care, including those services provided by Christian Science practitioners and nurses, both of which are available to the general public and are in no way subsidized by the Christian Science Church. This, despite the fact these services have been accommodated for years in other government-run programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).
How is it that something provided for so long to the elderly, the impoverished, and the government-employed is not being afforded to everyone else in the middle – those who in just a few years will be required to purchase insurance that likely will not include this benefit, or face a stiff financial penalty?
That just doesn’t seem right.
To be fair, Congress has built in a little wiggle room in terms of the implementation of this new law, which says that “a State may require that a qualified health plan offered in such State offer benefits in addition to the essential health benefits specified (by the federal government).” The only caveat here is that the State would have to cover any added costs.
Apparently this isn’t an insurmountable hurdle. Here in California, the Legislature is considering at least 15 bills that would impose coverage requirements for health insurers that would likely go beyond any federal mandates. This would include coverage for things like acupuncture, mammographies, maternity care, tobacco cessation drugs, medically necessary autism treatment, and expanded mental disorder diagnoses.
Religious nonmedical care deserves the same consideration.
For generations those who have relied on Christian Science for their health care have been cured of everything from minor injuries to more serious, life-threatening diseases, many of them medically diagnosed. Failure to accommodate this proven system of care would not only disregard a significant historic precedent, it would effectively disenfranchise those who have found this type of prayer-based treatment to be a safe and reliable means of treating physical ailments.
Understandably, the private health insurance industry has some concern about benefit mandates. However, as with the aforementioned government programs, Christian Science care and treatment has been successfully accommodated by private insurers for over 90 years. Clearly they recognize the importance of offering their customers options when it comes to their choice of treatment.
Honoring the individual’s ability to discern and determine what’s best for them – to provide coverage for whatever responsible form of health care they’ve found to be most effective – makes sense for everyone. Not only does it benefit the individual in need but our health care system as a whole.