When Loud Wins: Will Your Tax Dollars Pay For Prayer?

Today the LA Times described a bizarre and troublesome healthcare reform bill provision that would require Medicare to pay for Christian Science Prayer as a medical treatment:

…a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

Of course, I had warned about this very thing over a year ago on KevinMD’s blog – something I wish the LA Times had picked up on then.

On September 5, 2008 the ring leaders of this provision met at the National Press Club to promote their medical philosophy. I was so stunned by the sheer quackery of it all – miracle cure stories and false medical diagnoses – that I wrote a “reader take” blog post warning the medical community about the speakers. But perhaps I was warning the wrong people… or perhaps the right people don’t read medical blogs?

At the Press Club, Phil Davis (also quoted in the LA Times article) told a story about a man who sustained major multiple trauma after being in a car accident, only to be miraculously healed 2 weeks later through Christian Science prayer. Another woman, Melinna Giannini, Founder & CEO, ABC Coding Solutions, relayed a story in which she had a “mysterious” condition (in the face of a long battery of normal test results) – and found the “true diagnosis” only after seeing an alternative healthcare practitioner who looked at her tongue and prescribed treatment for “total body candidiasis.”

At the time I remember wondering how these people managed to get a hearing at the National Press Club – and was struck by their sheer determination to lobby for their misguided beliefs. Now, one year later I’m dumbfounded by their success at having a Senator (Orrin Hatch) actually add a provision to a healthcare reform bill. This tells me that determination trumps both common sense and science in the political arena. What a sad state of affairs.

If, as President Obama promised in his inaugural address, science is to be restored to its rightful place – then the first place to start is with keeping quackery out of the healthcare reform bills. It’s astonishing that this even needs to be discussed. Perhaps this is yet another wake up call regarding the war on science being waged (as recently noted by Wired Magazine and Newsweek) by a hyper-organized band of snake oil salesmen and their ill-informed Hollywood devotees? In this new Internet era – loud wins. I implore mainstream media to use their influence to make truth loud… partner with your trusted blogger sources, like the Science-Based Medicine team. We can help!

Posted in: Faith Healing & Spirituality, Politics and Regulation, Science and the Media

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14 thoughts on “When Loud Wins: Will Your Tax Dollars Pay For Prayer?

  1. Kausik Datta says:

    When I chanced across this on today’s LATimes, I thought that this was a truly bizarre occurrence. After sharing it on Facebook, I immediately decided to check SBM to see if anyone has reacted to it yet. Good that you picked it up. I wonder, the next time any o these senators or any of their family members fall ill, would they have the balls torely solely on prayer therapy that they are so willing tofoist on the American people?

  2. Kausik Datta says:

    Apologies for weird typos – typing from the iPhone is still HARD!!

    *any of their family
    *any of their family members falls ill…
    *to rely
    *to foist

  3. Nerdista says:

    This is ridiculous. Pandering to a base that doesn’t even support democrats.

  4. jerry Schwarz says:

    The Center for Inquiry public policy office is conducted an email campaign against this provision. To join go to

  5. Raman says:

    …post-modernity really is a scary place to live in.

  6. hgkelley says:

    Do Christian Scientists really charge for prayer?
    (By “charge”, I mean require substantial scheduled payment for services, not passively accept voluntary donations offered by the friends of the sufferer.)
    How is that charge calculated–numerically on how many people pray or is the charge weighted to include the relative piety of those praying?
    This bill open the flood gates for an ocean of billing fraud. How could auditors ever confirm or deny the validity of such charges? For example, if prayer service were routinely covered for all the Medicare patients in a skilled nursing facility, how many of them would refuse it just on principle, even if they are not members of that particular religion?
    Even more appalling to contemplate, would the “no prejudice” clause prevent doctors from seeking a court order to provide science based medical care to save the life of a child whose parents practice Christian Science?

  7. nitpicking says:

    The funny thing is, prayer has been tested experimentally many times (going back to Francis Galton) and it never works in well-designed tests. So let’s spend money on it/

  8. weing says:

    But if the patient dies, then the medical costs go down. Money saved by a prayer.

  9. KT says:

    What about “prayer” as a treatment even costs money?! Shouldn’t it be free anyway?

  10. Doazic says:


    So Sarah Palin was right; the Health Care Bill does contain Death Panels!

  11. Zetetic says:

    What’s next? Paying shamans & witch doctors?

  12. David Gorski says:

    Yes, if this passes. Or maybe more groups making fake religions behind which to defend their quackery as part of their “religion,” much like the faux Native American religion that Daniel Hauser and his parents used to justify his refusing chemotherapy, namely Nemenhah:

  13. cloudskimmer says:

    This makes me very angry and upset. Hatch wants to spend federal dollars to pay people who charge money to pray for others, but wants to deprive women who want to get an abortion of funding. Since so many conceptions result in spontaneous abortion, “God” must approve of abortion, since he causes so many of them, (but not Hatch’s god.) I guess women who need abortions will have to pray for them.

    One question: the article claims that following Christian “Science” hasn’t caused any deaths for the past 20 years. Is there any validity to this claim? Haven’t there been criminal prosecutions more recently than that?

    And maybe our medical dollars will have to pay for things like the phony sweat-lodge ceremony where three people were killed.

    I’d feel much better if someone came to clean my house every week. Can I get my medical insurance to pay for that too? Or can I only get money to pray that someone cleans my house?

  14. yeahsurewhatever says:

    The funny thing is, prayer has been tested experimentally many times (going back to Francis Galton) and it never works in well-designed tests. So let’s spend money on it

    It may interest you to know that those well-designed tests often find that patients who know they’re being prayed for tend to take slightly longer to recover.

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