May 2, 2014

​ACA Religious Exemption Hard to Get

By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN©2014 The Star-Ledger

Nestled in the fine print of the Affordable Care Act is a clause that
allows people of certain religions to seek an exemption from the requirement to
carry health insurance or pay a fine.

The clause applies only to denominations that run their own “mutual
aid’ system of spreading the cost of health care across the community.

That’s how the Amish, and to a lesser extent Mennonites, traditionally
handled health expenses.

Mennonites are not opposed to the concept of either health care or
health insurance. In fact, the central governing body, the Mennonite Church
USA, has been operating its Corinthian Plan since 2010.

It’s a conventional health insurance plan, operated under contract by
Blue Cross Blue Shield, that allows employees of the denomination’s churches to
get health insurance.

In one way it was a precursor of Obamacare, in that it did not exclude
people with pre-existing conditions.

Instead, it flows from the spiritual desire to avoid becoming too
“worldly,” or “becoming too much of your culture,” said Duncan Smith, interim
director for the Corinthian Plan.

“It isn’t so much about being anti-government, as it is a sense of ‘We
should take care of ourselves,’’’ he said. By relying on government programs,
congregants lose the sense that they can — and should — rely on what God has
given them, he said.

And Christian Scientists? It turns out they are not among those
religions that object to the notion of health insurance, so are not exempted
from the individual mandate, according to Valerie Minard, of the Christian
Science Committee on Publication for New Jersey, in Collingswood.

Christian Scientists, who refrain from some forms of medical care, are
covered by the ACA and must buy insurance or pay the fine.

Thinking of forming your own instant religion? It’s not enough to
disapprove of the law, or to object to certain clauses in it based on one’s

It won’t fly with the IRS, the agency that will collect fines from those
who were supposed to buy health insurance and didn’t. Why? Because the exempted
religions must have been established prior to 1950.

That mirrors the exemption clause from a big government program: The
Amish in particular neither pay into nor collect from Social Security. To limit
newcomers from getting out from under that payroll tax, the government stated
it applied only to sects in existence before 1950.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives managed to attract
bipartisan support to pass a bill that would expand the religious exemption for
the ACA. Under the Equitable Access to Care and Health (EACH) Act, anyone who
claimed to hold a “sincerely held religious belief” against the concept of
health insurance wouldn’t be subject to the requirement to get coverage.

The bill is given little chance to pass the U.S. Senate, however,
where Democrats have questioned why anyone would want to give the IRS more
power to inquire into taxpayers’ religious beliefs.

Under the bill, anyone claiming an exemption on the grounds of
religious beliefs would have to include a sworn affidavit on their annual tax
return. In addition, they would lose the exemption if they sought and received
medical care during that tax year.