A little-noticed provision in a Senate version of the pending health care bill would require insurance companies to consider paying for prayer as a medical expense. The addition was inserted by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and backed by Democrats John Kerry and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, the home state of the Christian Science church. Officials of the church say their prayer treatments are an effective option to conventional health care. But critics charge the provision would be an unconstitutional merger of church and state.
"When Congress mandates that health companies provide coverage for prayer, it has the effect of the government advancing religion," says a University of California law prof. A pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin criticized the plan as supporting payments for "unproven" treatments. Christian Science is not specifically named in the bill, though the church is a primary organizer of prayer healing services, reports the Los Angeles Times.