We have lately become all too familiar with demands for religious exemptions from the contraception coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Now, the Equitable Access to Care and Health (EACH) Act, H.R. 2061, would carve out from the ACA a religious exemption of a different nature. The EACH Act would provide an exemption from the ACA’s individual insurance mandate for individuals with a religious objection to using certain medical care services. We support the freedom of religion and belief because it is a fundamental American value, but it is not without limits. This bill, unfortunately, crosses the line.  

The ACA already contains two very limited religious exemptions to the individual mandate for people who object to purchasing insurance for religious reasons. The EACH Act’s exemption, however, is different: it extends a religious exemption to those who object, not to the purchasing of insurance, but to using most of the medical treatments covered by the insurance because they rely “solely on a religious method of healing.” Yet, the bill lets them have their cake and eat it too. Because under the EACH Act, Christian Scientists can refuse to purchase health insurance, yet still obtain certain medical care including routine dental, vision, and hearing services, midwifery services, and vaccinations. 

The insurance mandate, therefore, isn’t actually a religious burden on these individuals, as these individuals don’t object to insurance itself. (And in fact, many members of the Christian Science church actually have health insurance.) Creating exemptions for those who don’t want to purchase health insurance, but yet still use various types of medical care, doesn’t quite seem right, especially when the exemption will cost an estimated $1.2 billion over 10 years.

And, as Hobby Lobby has taught us: granting a religious exemption, especially where one is not required, may be used to justify additional and broader exemptions to the ACA in the future. Rather than opening the ACA up to further challenges, Congress would be wise to curb religious exemptions like this that operate more out of convenience for the bill’s proponents than relieve real, substantial burdens on religious exercise.

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee marked up H.R. 2061. We sent a letter in opposition to the bill’s passage.

Although the bill passed out of the committee, several members of the committee called into question the notion of creating an exemption for those who don’t use insurance because they object to using medical care, while still permitting them to use some forms of medical care.  A few Members of the House, it seems, are skeptical of such an exemption.

Stay tuned:  We will continue to oppose this bill if it moves forward in the House.