Suit Hits Payments for Christian Science Care

AN Iowa-based lobbying group is suing federal officials in an effort to block Medicare and Medicaid payments to Christian Science nursing facilities.

Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty Inc. (CHILD) and two of its members filed a suit Jan. 19 in US District Court in Minnesota against Bruce C. Vladeck, director of the Health Care Finance Administration, and Donna Shalala, secretary of Health and Human Services.

The taxpayer suit is asking the court to declare unconstitutional federal statutes and regulations that provide for payment to Christian Science nursing facilities certified by The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston. The church publishes this newspaper.

CHILD alleges that such use of federal taxing and spending power, which reportedly amounted to $7.4 million in 1992, "directly supports, promotes, and finances Christian Science religious activity in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution." Allowing the church to certify care facilities so they qualify for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement "constitutes a prohibited fusion of governmental and religious functions," the suit asserts.

"Medicare reimbursements are made for the provision of general nursing care by Christian Science nurses much like reimbursements are made for such services by all nurses," says church spokes-man Victor Westberg. "Reimbursements simply mean that those who rely on Christian Science healing, like other citizens, are entitled to benefits from taxes they have paid into the Social Security system. All we are looking for is a level playing field." He added that "the ability of elderly people to choose the nursing care that best supports the spiritual healing with which they are familiar is threatened by this lawsuit."

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