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Friday, March 14, 2014

Rep. Schock Pushes For Religious Exemption From Health Law

Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., is pictured on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 4, 2013. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., is pictured on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 4, 2013. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

There are just a few weeks until the Mar. 31 deadline for sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and many are still unhappy with the idea of mandatory healthcare.

Earlier this week, the House passed a bill allowing individuals to opt out of mandatory health insurance by writing “sincerely held religious beliefs” on their tax return, along with a sworn statement explaining their objection.

The Equitable Access to Care and Health Act (EACH) was sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois and heavily lobbied by the Christian Science church.

Although there was strong support from both sides of the aisle, some Democrats argued that allowing people to opt out of the bill could cost American taxpayers when uninsured individuals turn up in the emergency room after accidents or other emergencies.

Other opponents, including Rita Swan of the children’s healthcare advocacy group Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), who is a former Christian Scientist herself, are concerned the bill will encourage Christian Science parents and members of other religious sects to not seek medical treatment for their children, which could cost them their lives.

Congressman Schock joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the religious exemption bill that he hopes will make it through the Senate.

Interview Highlights: Aaron Schock

On his reasoning for sponsoring the bill

“I take my oath of office very seriously, and that oath is to protect and defend the Constitution, which guarantees the practice of religion to its citizens. And we don’t just protect the majority religious view in our country. We protect even the most minority religious belief, even if it’s just a single American citizen. In the case of Christian Scientists, they represent tens of thousands of constituents of mine in Illinois. We have one of the only Christian Scientist universities in the country in Illinois, Principia College. But there are Christian Scientists that live all over the country, and they believe in the power of healing. They do not participate in the traditional health care delivery system as we know it here in our country. And so, on April 1 of this year, they have a choice that they are going to have to make, which is continue to practice their faith or violate their religious conscience to avoid attacks by the federal government. And that’s really not in keeping with the promise made in our founding documents and the oath of office that we all take as members of Congress, to protect and defend religious liberty.”

On comparison to Massachusetts’ health law exemption 

“Since 2006, since the law in Massachusetts was enacted, only 6,000 Bay Staters have taken the exemption. So in relative terms, it’s actually a small number in the overall millions of people that live in Massachusetts and have benefited from your health care law. And at the end of the day, regardless of the number, how big or how small, what’s important, first and foremost, in our Constitution and our founding documents, is people’s ability to practice their religious beliefs. This law ensures that.”

On the possibility of people exploiting the exemption

“If at some point they decide they want to enter the traditional health care system, they want to show up at the emergency room for care, they want to go to a primary care physician for preventative care — then, there’s this stiff financial penalty that’s put in place, similar to the Massachusetts law, so that if somebody is trying to skirt the system and not buy health care, and then seeks medical attention, then they have to pay back taxes, back fees and a stiff financial penalty for doing so.”


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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