A federal appeals court has ruled that Medicare and Medicaid may reimburse religiously motivated nursing facilities.
The US Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis affirmed Monday a federal district court decision upholding the constitutionality of a law allowing reimbursement of nursing facilities that, for religious reasons, administer only nonmedical services.
The appeals court said patients in what the law calls religious, nonmedical health- care institutions "are not reimbursed for any services for which they would not be similarly reimbursed if they had sought care at a medical institution. Thus [the law] confers no special benefit upon persons who hold religious objections to medical care; it merely accommodates them."
The case was brought by Children's Health Care Is a Legal Duty (CHILD Inc.) against the Department of Health and Human Services and the federal agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid benefits. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, which publishes this newspaper, intervened as an additional defendant.
In a 1996 suit brought by CHILD Inc., a federal court in Minnesota held that an earlier statute allowing payment of Medicare and Medicaid benefits to Christian Science nursing homes was unconstitutional because the law referred specifically to one church, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Congress responded in 1997. It replaced sect-specific provisions with language allowing reimbursement to religious, nonmedical healthcare institutions. CHILD Inc. argued the law still violated the Establishment Clause.
Christian Scientists rely on prayer for healing, rather than drugs and medical technology. When Congress passed the original Medicare and Medicaid bills in 1965, it allowed Christian Scientists to receive reimbursement for room, board, supplies, and nonmedical nursing care at Christian Science nursing facilities. The work of Christian Science practitioners is not paid for under these programs.
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