Schock bill addresses religious exemption for health care law

“Religious parents may not martyr their children–there should be no exemption for children’s health care” – Professor Marci A. Hamilton

Schock bill addresses religious exemption for health care law

By”>Chris Kaergard of the Journal Star
Posted Mar. 12, 2014 @ 9:21 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock tackling an issue involving religious exemptions and the Affordable Care Act that has broad, bipartisan backing passed out of the House overwhelmingly earlier this week.

But it isn’t the religious exemption that many have focused on in the last several years relating to coverage of contraceptives that brought the legislation about. Instead, the Peoria Republican’s measure focused on eliminating the penalty that those who object to health care itself on religious grounds are being forced to pay for not signing on to insurance coverage required under the health law.

That’s a matter that mainly affects Christian Scientists, who broadly believe in nontraditional, prayer-based healing only.

“Our Bill of Rights protects people’s religious rights and freedom of expression,” Schock said Wednesday during a walk to the House floor for a round of votes. “This law basically ensures that even the smallest segment of the population (has) … their religious rights upheld.”

It was a Chillicothe resident who first brought the matter to Schock’s attention, though he noted that there’s significant interest elsewhere in the state, too. Principia College, the only Christian Science-affiliated college in the country, is located in Elsah, at the edge of the Metro East area.

All told, an estimated 350,000 practitioners of the faith could be affected, Schock’s office said.

In Massachusetts, under then-Gov. Mitt Romney’s health reform legislation, some 6,500 people claimed a similar exemption permitted under state law.

Those who would be excused would have to sign a waiver agreeing not to participate in traditional health care, and would pay a tax penalty if they actually did so.

Some 216 members of Congress — two shy of a majority — signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, including 78 Democrats. Both Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin — a Republican and Democrat, respectively — are pushing a companion bill in their chamber. Some 30 lawmakers there, equally weighted between the parties, are sponsoring the measure.

Though the matter at hand doesn’t affect the mandate requiring coverage for contraceptives that other faith-based groups — including the Catholic church and its affiliated entities — object to, the debate here may set the stage for other legislation addressing other religious exemptions to portions of the law, Schock said.

“This is the first of probably more (bills) to come,” he said. “… This one made the most sense to start because it had such broad, bipartisan, overwhelming support. To come up with 216 bipartisan supporters, as we did in this bill, will probably prove more difficult in some of the other bills we put forward.”

He admits, in fact, that other changes will be more difficult in light of a Democrat-controlled Senate and with legislation needing to be signed by President Barack Obama, but indicated he intended to try.

“It’s my personal belief that no one should be required to violate their religious conscience in any way, shape or form,” Schock said.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration, though Schock said the hope is that it will pass by March 31 before individuals begin seeing fines for not complying with the law as written.

Chris Kaergard can be reached at or 686-3135. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.