What do Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have in common?
A soft spot for Christian Scientists.
The three senators have quietly inserted a provision into the Democrats’ healthcare overhaul that would allow the Christian Science church to receive remuneration from the federal government for prayer treatments as medical expenses.
Why are liberal Democrats teaming up with a conservative senator for a provision that would normally be the bane of the Senate’s liberal elite? Because the headquarters of the Christian Science church is in Boston.
“The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine,” the Los Angeles Times‘ Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger, who found the measure, write. “While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against ‘religious and spiritual healthcare.'”
“We are making the case for this, believing there is a connection between healthcare and spirituality,” Phil Davis, a church spokesman, told the reporters. “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.”
Liberals are sure to be up in arms, arguing the provision will allow some of Americans’ already high insurance costs to be tapped to pay for religious prayer. The constitution includes a provision that separates church and state, which critics cite as the key reason for opposing the move.
Speaking for Sen. Kerry, spokeswoman Whitney Smith said that insurers wouldn’t be forced to cover prayer, but that it would prevent insurers from “discriminating” against “spiritual care.”
“The amendment would prevent insurers from discriminating against benefits that qualify as spiritual care if the care is recognized by the IRS as a legitimate medical expense,” Smith is quoted as saying. “Plans are free to impose standards on spiritual and medical care as long as both are treated equally. It does not mandate that plans provide spiritual care.”
According to Hamburger and Geiger, the proposal would have a negligible overall cost on the bill, as the Church has fewer than 1,800 branches worldwide and continues to see membership declines. Prayer treatments cost from $20 to $40 a day — which the church describes as competitive with medical care.
The Church of Christ, Christian Scientist was founded in 1879.
Supporters could argue that the provision might increase the chance that some Republicans would sign on to the capacious, $900 billion healthcare package; none, however, have indicated their support.