Religious Right Opposition to Healthcare Reform Is Deadly

In almost every measure, the quality and affordability of healthcare in the US is embarrassing. While we spend more on healthcare than any other country, "all adults in the United States are at risk for receiving poor health care, no matter where they live; why and from whom they seek care; or what their race, gender, or financial status is."

A newly pre-released documentary, Bitter Pill by Dr. Vivekanand Palavali, reveals the depth of the health care problems we face, from greed and corruption to defensive medicine and the revolving door of lobbyists from the medical industry. Without a single-payer system, the film argues, the improvements brought about by Obamacare do little to address the greed-driven motives now in control of those who run the health industry's biggest insurance, hospital, pharmaceutical, and supply companies. With tens of thousands of people dying every year for lack of insurance and medical costs causing a multitude of personal bankruptcy filings, it's no time to play games with our nation's healthcare system. It deserves attention from country's best minds who shouldn't be distracted by those who assert religious objections to a purely secular issue--but that's just what's happening.

Many opponents of health care improvements come from the Religious Right. One of their key angles of attack is to pit "religious freedom" against efforts for an improved health care system. This was highlighted this past weekend, Oct. 20, with Stand Up For Religious Freedom rallies. Dozens of fundamentalist groups were crying foul over birth control coverage included in nation's new health law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), even though contraceptives do more than just stop pregnancies. Despite the exemption for institutions that are purely religious in nature, rally organizers are still upset, claiming "not even Jesus and the apostles would have qualified for this exemption."

Demanding special rules for religious people and institutions when it comes to health care doesn't stop at contraceptives. One of the least-known fronts in the current battle over "religious freedom" in America centers on the belief that health care is best served by forgoing real insurance for a non-guaranteed promise of help from a "healthcare sharing ministry." Members of only three of these groups are exempted from buying real insurance with guaranteed coverage. The reasoning behind this exemption is the claim of "religious freedom" that the Religious Right is turning into a cliché.

This issue surfaced due to a recent ruling by a Kentucky judge who stopped the healthcare sharing ministry Medi-Share from doing business in the state for violating state insurance laws. This Kentucky ruling follows a state Supreme Court decision a year ago that also denied religious exemptions to state insurance regulations because healthcare sharing ministries do not guarantee a member's medical bills will be paid. Members of groups like Medi-Share typically have to pledge to live by a set of guidelines commonly preached by evangelicals such as not drinking, smoking, using drugs or having sex outside of a heterosexual marriage. But, even if a member can "prove" all of these requirements were followed, there's still no guarantee that group members will cover any individual's medical expenses.

Let's face it, these healthcare schemes look like potential scams. Without any real guarantee of a member getting any benefits, all payments taken with even an implied guarantee is tantamount to fraud. When Christian Healthcare Ministries (formerly known as Christian Brotherhood Newsletter) went into a court-ordered receivership over a decade ago, an investigation turned up $15 million spent on luxury houses, motorcycles, expensive cars and high salaries, including a highly paid stripper as an employee. And for those who have a problem with these groups after they've enrolled, a rule is in place that stops benefits for anyone trying to use the courts to get justice.

Christian Right advocates were recently able to insert an exemption for people enrolled in these groups into the nation's new healthcare law for those enrolled in the three groups that have been in operation since 1990: Medi-share, Christian Healthcare Ministries, and Samaritan Ministries. Shockingly, as we stumble for healthcare solutions that offer more, not less care to patients, an exemption is rammed through to specifically allow health care plans without any guarantee of coverage (including pre-existing conditions).

At least for now, no new groups can be formed and get the same exemption, even if they use the same "religious freedom" arguments put forward by the others. But these loop holes are likely to grow if the public is kept in the dark on these issues since the companies have a lot to gain by expanding. Better than preventing their growth would be to close them down altogether, since ending these special rights for religious companies will result in providing people with access to be better care. After all is said and done, twisting claims of "religious freedom" in an attempt to carve out exemptions to the law is literally killing us.