Reimbursement for prayer treatments?

November 4, 2009



Should payers treat prayer treatments the same as medical treatments? If a little-noticed (until now) healthcare provision passes, then yes.

Tucked into the Senate reform bill is a provision that would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses, the LA Times reports.

The provision was included by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and backed by Massachusetts Dems Kerry and Kennedy – home to the Church of Christ, Scientist. Christian Science prayer treatments would be on the same footing as clinical medicine.

Whatever happened to the separation of church and state? And doesn’t this open the door for other religious groups to demand similar reimbursements for spiritual healing. The cost impact is small, as Christian Science is a small church and treatments are as little as $20 a day, the Times notes.

Blogger and physician Val Jones wrote about this recently and had picked up on their efforts before, calling their medical approach “quackery.” Referring to the church’s hefty and loud lobbying efforts, she notes, “This tells me that determination trumps both common sense and science in the political arena. What a sad state of affairs.” She also notes that President Obama promised to re-elevate science, and clearly this measure goes against that effort.

As it turns out, the Christian Science Church has worked hard for official recognition of its prayer practitioners, and about 90 years ago, private insurance companies began paying for prayer treatments. More recently, managed-care insurers have declined reimbursements. The IRS allows the costs to be itemized medical expenses, the LA Times reports.

Surely religion, prayer, spirituality (however you would like to define it) has a place in wellbeing and health (I am not convinced enough to go as far as to say in “healing.”). But where does it stand when it comes to reimbursement and government support? It seems to me this measure is opening the floodgates for reimbursement for all kinds of spiritual healing, some of which might be pure quackery and some perhaps less so, but all not necessarily rooted in science.

Similarly, we recently did a story here about what how medicine and religion can collide, focusing on how practices can deal with the sensitive subject with patients. It’s certainly complicated, and you may have patients whose religion dictates their thoughts about treatment. As we found, it’s all about communication.