Health Reform Bill to Allow Insurance Payments For Prayer Healings

Via Kevin Drum, I have learned that current Senate version of the health reform bill would provide for insurance payments for Christian Science prayer treatments–and probably other “spiritual” treatments as well.

Reporting from Washington – Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

Ugh. You know, it’s bad enough that insurance companies are already wasting money paying for quack treatments like chiropractic “adjustments” and acupuncture, but this isn’t just the camel’s nose under the tent–it’s the camel in the tent, spitting and defecating over everything.

If we’re going to be serious about controlling health care costs, we have to stop covering quack treatments just because they might make people “feel better.” Chiropractors, acupuncturists, homeopathists, faith healers, reflexologists and the rest of that pseudoscientific lot are committing fraud: they claim they can heal, but they cannot.

It’s bad enough that we allow them to practice at all. It’s terrible that some insurance companies are idiotic enough to pay for such treatments. It is a derogation of the governments’ duty to its citizens that some states license these trades. But evolving a national health care system that preserves this quackery in law and ensures they get taxpayer dollars is absolutely criminal.

One of the few roles of government that I think folks from every political stripe can agree on is that the government should protect citizens from fraud. It’s not supposed to help people perpetrate fraud.

(cross posted to Heretical Ideas)

FILED UNDER: Health, Religion, US Politics, , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Furhead says:

    I’m just wondering what the going rate is for a prayer?

  2. Mr. Prosser says:

    Focus on the Family and Pat Robertson will now be pro health reform. They’ll be on this like aroma on feces.

  3. odograph says:

    This obviously fails my “clean division” test, between public and private … but the odd thing is that if I remember my readings in neurobiology correctly, prayer works, possibly even for atheists.

    Maybe Pat and the Family should offer prayer services because they should? Do they need a profit motive here?

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    the odd thing is that if I remember my readings in neurobiology correctly, prayer works, possibly even for atheists.

    There were some initial studies that showed this might be the case, but they were small scale and most didn’t include a double blind. More recent studies on a larger scale and with more rigorous controls showed no discernable difference between prayer and no prayer.

  5. Amen.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    What are you trying to say Alex? There is no way for science to study prayer. You are dealing with things that are not tangible. To accept theory in place of hard fact is where you and other scientist go wrong. A great deal of accepted science is theory and not provable. The humanities are a very inexact science. If fact, it is a misnomer to call it science since there is not way for scientific method to be expected to reasonably work. Example. How do you scientifically prove prayer?

  7. Alex Knapp says:

    Zelsdorf,

    How do you scientifically prove prayer?

    In the context of healing, that’s easy. You take a large group of people with the same health problem with a restricted number of demographics. You divide them in half. You have a group of people pray for one half and not the other. You do not tell the patients or the doctors which group the patient falls in. You compare the results. If the prayer half has a statistically signficant better rate of recovery than the non-prayer half, you have a sound treatment.

  8. Mr. Prosser says:

    Zelsdorf & Alex, You may be arguing two types of studies, one involved individual activity and the other involved long-distance prayer by outside groups. I think the individual prayer can be equated with biofeedback and other “positive thinking” activities that make one feel better but in the long term do not statistically prolong life to a great extent, if at all. The group activities have, I believe, been debunked although I don’t have time to research it now.

  9. ptfe says:

    @Alex & Mr Prosser: The relevant article that shows how prayer is ineffective when done blindly (i.e. if you pray for someone and they don’t know it, the odds of them recovering don’t change) and possibly negative when the deed is known.

    Of course, there’s a lot to the psychology of “alternative medicine” and prayer — there’s just no scientific foundation for believing in them as medical tools and no reason they should be paid for using collective (public or insurance) funds.

  10. Clovis says:

    But to not offer this coverage would be discriminatory to Christian Scientists, Wiccans, Hippies, etc. Discrimination ( in either the positive or negative definition of same ) is a great big government no-no.

    You’ve got to expect some gristle and cartilage in anything that comes out of a sausage factory. This particular sausage is going to be nothing but bone-meal in a casing, and fodder for lawyer types.

  11. floyd says:

    Alex;
    IMO your conclusion is accurate as to whether these procedures should be covered.

    However,your declaration of fraud truly proves nothing but your obvious bias, and your long term obstinate aversion and ignorance of all things spiritual, and clouds your reasoning.
    There have been experimental procedures,and experimental drugs on the market for as long as there has been the practice of medicine.
    In America most have been covered by insurance companies only after being extensively proven effective scientifically, or in some cases politically.
    Our present healthcare system filters out most nonsense through contractual obligations beneficial to both patient and insurance companies. This system requires the providers to prove to their satisfaction that the treatments are medically effective in order to be covered.
    The government’s legitimate role is to vet these medicines and procedures to prove them scientifically effective or not, thereby acting as a regulator of unsafe practices and providing reasonable guidelines based on the best available science.
    Government(politicians) taking on the role of provider, absent our present system, takes government (agencies) out of their legitimate role as regulator and results in the above nonsense.
    There can be no doubt that support for outright government control of healthcare is, in fact, support more politics and less science in the provision of healthcare.
    Therein lies the caution for the future of both the cost and the practice of medicine.

  12. Scott Swank says:

    There are two options for something this sweeping:

    1. A bipartisan effort
    2. A single-party effort that has to give away the kitchen sink to pass

    We have door number two. Are the Democrats taking hard-line leftist positions that no Republican could ever support? Or are the Republicans unwilling to make any good-faith effort at arriving at a compromise bill? Either way, door number two is always awful. At this point we can only hope that future legislation cleans up some of the most egregious give-aways.

    And I’m of the opinion that it does not discriminate against “religious and spiritual healthcare” to require that they pass the same bar for efficaciousness as traditional/science-based healthcare.

  13. odograph says:

    I was actually thinking of the (guided?) prayer for yourself kind. That kind is compatible with my view of God, that He should always be unprovable, and reached by Faith alone. If guided prayer helps, we can still take it on faith (or not) that it worked (or was positive psychology all along).

    Double-blind tests of prayer for others seems bizarre to me. Do the tests rest on the idea that God is mechanistic, and can’t see what the survey is up to? That God is dumb? Do they assume that He is just waiting to be discovered? Weird.

  14. Observer says:

    Double-blind tests of prayer for others seems bizarre to me. Do the tests rest on the idea that God is mechanistic, and can’t see what the survey is up to? That God is dumb? Do they assume that He is just waiting to be discovered? Weird.

    Consider this moral quandry: if God chooses to not intervene because He doesn’t want to be discovered that way, it means that He’s willing to let someone die to prevent assured knowledge of His existence.

  15. odograph says:

    Consider this moral quandry: if God chooses to not intervene because He doesn’t want to be discovered that way, it means that He’s willing to let someone die to prevent assured knowledge of His existence.

    But if He’s there, death for some loses its sting 😉

    Not so simple, this provable God stuff.

  16. Gustopher says:

    Since Christian Scientists shun doctors, and any bill with a mandate would force them to purchase health insurance anyway, why shouldn’t they get something out of it?

    Whether it is prayer healings, or a 20% discount off all taxi rides to a Christian Science reading room, or free movie tickets, it’s bound to be cheaper than doctor visits.

    And usually, a patient gets better on their own anyway.

  17. Dave Schuler says:

    If reimbursements were limited to things with proven effectiveness it would reduce our expenses drastically. Most medical procedures have never been subjected to rigorous, well-constructed double-blind testing.

    For one thing it would be unethical to do so. Think about open heart surgery or amputating a limb.

    And lots of pharmaceutical use is off-label, as much as 20%. That means that the pharmaceutical doesn’t have proven efficacy for the condition for which it’s being prescribed. Nonetheless, we’re still reimbursing the physicians for prescribing them.

  18. MarkedMan says:

    It needs to be said that the idea of evidence based medicine, which pretty much everyone here seems to agree with, is uniformly castigated by the entire Republican leadership. They call it “death panels” or “the government telling your doctor what he can and can’t provide”.

  19. Another Matt says:

    I agree that there are many quacks out there that take advantage of people. But consider that in every western drug trial, the trial must account for a placebo effect. Western medicine, while acknowledging the fact of a very real, measurable effect seemingly caused by a person’s belief system seems to ignore the idea that a person’s belief system can be used in a real way as part of a treatment regime.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    Evidence-based medicine is a component of the moderate Republican alternative plan, the Medical Rights and Reform Act.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    It needs to be said that the idea of evidence based medicine

    I don’t follow what the Republican leadership supports or doesn’t support but I think you may be confusing evidence-based medicine with comparative effectiveness which are two different things (if comparative effectiveness is anything at all—it’s pretty much in its infancy).

  22. MarkedMan says:

    Evidence-based medicine is a component of the moderate Republican alternative plan, the Medical Rights and Reform Act.

    Where can I see a copy of the “Medical Rights and Reform Act”? Is this the one they announced today?

  23. MarkedMan says:

    Comparative effectiveness is a subset of evidence based medicine. It stipulates studies done to see what is most effective, and then the outcome of that study is used to define coverage. The use of this today that many of us have encountered is the whopping co-pays for certain prescription drugs. The insurance companies, based on criteria they don’t make public, decide that generic drug A is just as effective as name brand drug B. They escalate the co-pay for drug B to discourage use, thereby bringing the individual consumer into play.

    I just heard an NPR article on the latest move in this game: the name brand companies are giving coupons to doctors equivalent to their patients co-pay and the doctors pass it on to their patients. I may not have the numbers exactly right, but the example they gave was something like generic drug, $120 cost/$10 co-pay, name brand $540 cost/$145 co-pay. The name brand pitched in with a $135 coupon, and the consumer, who preferred the name brands once-a-day pill versus the generic’s twice a day, went with the name brand, which put the insurer out an extra $400+ dollars. This effectively takes the consumer back out.

    This stuff is complicated and I don’t tend to spend a whole lot of time listening to anyone who starts off the discussion with “Everyone knows” or has the attitude of “those who disagree with me are idiots”. I’m not accusing anyone here, in fact this is one of the more reasoned sites around.

  24. G.A.Phillips says:

    I believe in the healing power of payer, I have seen it work, but to think some poser can have people lead onto a stage and then evoke direct power from the Son of God is not how it works.And we that will pray for to get well don’t charge for it.Point taken.

    Also I have never seen simba(thats good *** weed) heal any one no matter how good it is, but I have seen it improve their spirits and apatite.

    So your against medical marijuana now Alex?

  25. steve says:

    “Evidence-based medicine is a component of the moderate Republican alternative plan, the Medical Rights and Reform Act.”

    No one is opposed to EBM. Republicans have explicitly opposed cost effectiveness research. It is not done a lot because there is no clear funding source. Drug companies oppose it. It does show up in the medical literature at least indirectly. Studies with diabetics and hypertensives have shown that older cheaper drugs work just as well for some patients and/or are safer.

    Steve

  26. Neill Payne says:

    Mr. Knapp’s comment:

    “Ugh. You know, it’s bad enough that insurance companies are already wasting money paying for quack treatments like chiropractic “adjustments” and acupuncture, but this isn’t just the camel’s nose under the tent—it’s the camel in the tent, spitting and defecating over everything.”

    while superficially cleaver, betrays a superficial, biased and outdated knowledge of the scientific literature for both chiropractic and acupuncture. There are many good studies available that demonstrate the efficacy of both.

    The journal Spine, a premier medical journal, reported in 2003, A Randomized Controlled Study Comparing Medication, Acupuncture, and Spinal Manipulation, that chiropractic adjustments provided the best overall results and better short term results than either acupuncture or meds (i.e. Vioxx, Celebrex, etc.). However, acupuncture did appear to be more effacaious for neck pain as rated on a Visual Analog Scale.