Pray for health care?

Most of us have heard the stories where insurance companies restrict or completely cut off health care to their customers when they need it most. Some of those stories turn out to be critical life-or-death situations where the family has no way to pay for enormous medical bills and either stop the health care or live their lives in debt. The security of fair, affordable health care should be a right -not a privilege– for the citizens of any country which has the power to grant it.

Being without health insurance myself when I first heard President Obama’s health care proposal I could not understand why some people became so rabid in their objection to it. Obama promised affordable health care and the bill would restrict insurance companies from discriminating against people (be it existing health conditions or whatever) and dropping their coverage with no warning; often leaving the families of the sick and injured to struggle to support rising medical costs. Sorting through thousands of pages of legal jargon I understand that, as is the case with most everything told to us by our elected officials, they’ve been telling us half the story. What we think we’re getting with the bill has had some “minor” additions included with it.

This is an article from the Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 18, 2009:


Rita Swan

Tucked into the health care reform bill passed by Sen. Harkin’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee is a mandate that insurers reimburse for “religious or spiritual health care” that is classified as a deductible medical care expense by the Internal Revenue Service. See S.1679, Section 3103(a)(1)(D).

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on which Congressman Bruce Braley sits has added a similar measure to the House health care reform bill. See Section 125 of HR3200.

The Internal Revenue Service allows bills sent by Christian Science practitioners for their prayers to be deducted from income tax as a medical care expense.

The agency has declined requests to provide evidence that Christian Science heals disease.

Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy directed church practitioners to “make their charges for treatment equal to those of reputable physicians in their respective localities.” (First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 237) These treatments consist only of prayer.

These practitioners set their own rates, but sometimes their charges are indeed comparable to medical bills. In 1989, Christian Science healer Mario Tosto charged parents $446 for two days of prayer-treatment for Ian Lundman, an 11-year-old Minnesota boy with diabetes.

The boy died.

In Michigan, an insurance company balked at paying a Christian Science practitioner’s bill of $1,775 for her prayers on top of medical bills for the patient. The couple sued the company, which then settled out of court. Stephenson v. State Farm, 48th District Court, as reported in Michigan Trial Lawyers Association newsletter, October 1986.

The IRS has an extremely broad definition of deductible medical care. Any service primarily intended to affect “some structure or function of the body” is medical care. The “experience, qualification, or title of the person rendering services” is irrelevant.

Whether anyone besides the person paying for the service thinks it is medical is irrelevant.

Bills incurred for anyone’s prayers or healing rituals are deductible medical care. (For verification, see these sources: IR Ruling 55-261, 19551 C.B. 307, IR Ruling 63-91, 1963-1 C.B. 54, and Fischer v. Commissioner, 50 T.C.
164, 194 (1968)).

Fortunately, most religions do not send bills for their prayers. And the IRS’s bizarre, looseygoosey policy may not have cost the public a lot of money to date because taxpayers can deduct only medical care bills that are higher than 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income and then only a percentage according to their tax bracket.

If, however, the federal government forces the insurance industry to pay for prayer, a new cottage industry will likely spring up and Christian Science practitioners will likely raise their prices.

Even more serious is that the Christian Science church will use the federal law as another argument that Christian Science “treatment” should be a legal substitute for medical care of sick children.

There will be more laws like West Virginia’s religious defense to fatal neglect of a child when parents withhold medical care and instead rely on prayer-treatment “if fees and expenses incurred in connection with such treatment are permitted to be deducted from taxable income as ‘medical expenses’ pursuant to regulations or rules promulgated by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. (West Virginia Code 618D-4a(b)).

Iowa’s religious defense to felony child endangerment and manslaughter at Iowa Code 726.6(d) has been justified on similar grounds.

The government should not be forcing anyone to pay for prayer.

We urge Congress to remove all provisions in the health care reform bills that require insurers to reimburse for prayer or any other “health care” that is not evidence based.

Rita Swan is president of Sioux City-based Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD, Inc.), a non-profit national membership organization established to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, especially religion based medical neglect. For more information, visit

We can all agree that what we have isn’t working the way it should and the people of these United States demand a change, but we shouldn’t be so eager for something different that we allow our trusted officials to pass anything by us without our full understanding. We certainly shouldn’t allow them to encourage something as ridiculous as “faith healing” for the sick. If we rely on blind faith and prayer instead of proven medical science to heal the sick and injured then I, along with countless others, would have one less family member to say “I love you” to today.

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