Health-care amendment seeks to preserve patient choice

Special to the U-B

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In these final months of discussion on health-care reform, an amendment to include spiritual care as a health-care option has received considerable attention.
The Union Bulletin printed an opinion regarding the proposed amendment on Nov. 5. Faced with a government mandate requiring all Americans to obtain health insurance, the Christian Science Church prepared the amendment, which would encourage insurers not to discriminate against people who choose spiritual care. Representatives of Christian Science, like me, have been working to explain its significance.
I have attended a number of health-care reform forums over the past two years. Patient choice has always been considered a major priority.
People should be able to choose the type of health are and the provider they feel is best for themselves and their families. If Americans are to be free to make this choice, and thousands currently choose spiritual care, this amendment must be included.
Sponsored by Senators Hatch, Kerry and the late Ted Kennedy, the amendment is not a mandate. Insurance companies are only required to consider covering spiritual care, something hundreds of health insurance companies did for 70 years prior to the 1980s.
Some have questioned its constitutionality. The amendment does not advance any particular religion; it simply enables Americans to gain access to the health care of their choice.
It is not unreasonable to accommodate spiritual care services that the government recognizes as a legitimate (tax deductible) form of health care. Private insurance companies reimburse patients for private health-care costs.
Michael McConnell, who heads the Stanford University Constitutional Law Center, concurs that the amendment is "consistent with constitutional standards."
Critics of the amendment have noted that Kennedy and Kerry are both from the same state as the Christian Science Church headquarters. One Seattle talk show host recently proclaimed on his radio program, "Well that explains it!"
Kennedy probably knew more about health-care reform than any other lawmaker. His knowledge and experience in this field, not where he lived, is what is relevant. He was a champion for universal health care and for standing against discrimination in many forms.
In 2006, Massachusetts enacted the Mandated Coverage Law, which did not include the option for spiritual-care services. Kennedy was aware of this omission and worked to ensure the inclusion of spiritual care as an option in the current national health-care reform legislation.
The spiritual-care amendment passed with unanimous support in the Senate Help Committee that he chaired.
And what about costs? A few years ago, The New Yorker magazine printed a cartoon where two men are standing at a party and one says to the other, "I couldn’t afford heath insurance, so I became a Christian Scientist." Perhaps amusing at the time, the alarming rise in health-care costs is no joke.
This amendment is cost neutral. Providing public access to spiritual-care services like Christian Science may actually limit costs. There is no basis for the claim that costs will rise if this amendment opens the gates for various other groups.
It covers only IRS-approved medical expenses. Payments would be authorized for Christian Science care and prayer treatments, some North American Indian care and holistic centers and a few others.
A few years ago, Marie Claire magazine printed an article entitled, "How many pills did you take this week?" Four women were interviewed with answers ranging from 147 to 0. The one who answered zero was a Christian Scientist. She responded that her faith had always met her health-care needs without the need for pills.
Christian Science prayer is a form of spiritual care that is not well understood, but it has been practiced throughout our country for over 130 years. It is not the same as faith healing or positive thinking. It involves daily religious study and prayer and is based on the healing practice and teachings found in the gospels.
Christian Science practitioners are available to help anyone who needs assistance. These are self-employed individuals who work full-time and have no employment relationship with their local church.
They generally charge between $20-50 per day for prayer treatment to patients who seek their help. Nor does any insurance money go to a particular church. It is a patient-driven system of care.
I have been healed of numerous physical ailments and found Christian Science to be safe and reliable. The Christian Scientists I know are not individuals who would put themselves or their families at risk. When it comes to proper health care, results matter. Like most parents, I would move heaven and earth to ensure that my family always had the best health care available.
Basically, this is about patient choice. To those who have just been told there is nothing more that can be done for their loved one or themselves, having another proven health-care option can be indispensable.
William E. Scott is a member of the Christian Science Committee on Publication, which is charged with providing accurate information to the media, Legislature and public on Christian Science. He can be reached at P.O. Box 82591, Kenmore, WA 98028-0591. Or by calling 425-803-0985.

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