Religious groups can opt out of compulsory health care

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by JANET ST. JAMES / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on March 24, 2010 at 3:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 24 at 11:48 PM

LAVON — There is a way to avoid government-mandated health insurance coverage without paying a penalty.

As with childhood vaccines, the public can opt-out of health care coverage for religious reasons.

This clause was created with the Amish and others traditionally opposed to mainstream medicine in mind, but some Christians can take advantage of it, too.

Bob and Paula Singleton are voluntarily uninsured; their health care costs are covered by other Christians around the country.

"The idea is that as Christians, we share each other's burdens," explained Bob Singleton.

The Singletons were worried their Christian health care network would be illegal under the new health care law. But the bill signed by the president has a special clause allowing such health care-sharing ministries, to opt out.

It's part of the religious exemption.

SMU dean of theology William Lawrence says taking advantage of the option won't be as simple as checking a box.

"You actually have to provide back-up documentation," he said. "You have to show that this is an established religious community. You have to show that his religious community specifically prohibits your participation."

Lawrence said that lying about a religious affiliation will be a federal crime that may be punishable by jail time.

"You couldn't suddenly declare your desire to opt back in because you now have a medical condition," he said. "You'd actually have to demonstrate that you had a religious conversion, and that you were now part of a religious community that no longer prohibited your participation in such a thing."

That's fine with the Singletons, who told us they have faith that fellow Christians will be there in sickness and in health.

There are many nuances to the religious exemption, but experts say — like an IRS audit — there will also be investigators for religious exemptions to deter fraud.

E-mail: jstjames@wfaa.com

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