House Passes Bill Allowing Religious Exemptions From Healthcare Law
Democrats in the House of Representatives joined with Republicans Tuesday to pass the Equitable Access to Care and Health (EACH) Act according to The Hill. The bill would allow people to opt out of buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act — sometimes referred to as “Obamacare” — by citing religious objections.
Designated HR 1814, the proposal was considered under suspended rules in the House, meaning it required a two-thirds majority to pass. With about 80 Democrats joining to support the bill as co-sponsors it passed with only a voice vote.
EACH was largely supported by the Christian Science lobby. Christian Scientists typically avoid traditional medicine and believe that being forced to purchase healthcare insurance is unjust because they would never use it to seek medical care. They urged followers to stage a “national call-in” lobbying day early in the week to ask members of Congress to support the bill.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, last week, issued an “action alert” to warn members, and others who opposed the legislation, of the Christian Scientists’ efforts to get the bill passed. They similarly urged those in opposition to call members of the House and ask that they vote against the proposal.
People who would seek an exemption under the bill would have to include sworn statements with their tax returns explaining their objection to carrying health insurance.
That puts a burden on the IRS according to Rep. Henry Waxman, D.-Calif., who said it would leave it up to the IRS to define the language of the bill and decided what a “sincerely held religious belief” is.
"This is impossibly difficult to enforce, and frankly, it is not a role we want the IRS to take on," he said.
Rep. Aaron Schock, R.-Ill., sponsored the bill and said those concerns were unfounded. He cited similar language in the Massachusetts healthcare law and pointed out that only 6,500 people had applied for an exemption in that state. Furthermore, he argued that current exemptions in the Affordable Care Act are too narrow.
"Today's bill must become law," he said. "Among the many problems with the Affordable Care Act, the current conscience exemption only protects religious exemptions of a few select faiths.”
A column on the website Patheos argues that President Obama would likely veto the bill should it become law, but its easy passage in the House will make it difficult for the Senate to ignore.