Morley Safer explores this irony, which some believe is justified and others say violates the Constitution, in a 60 Minutes report on Sunday, March 26.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), a proponent of the funding in Congress, points out that Christian Scientists pay taxes and deserve benefits like anyone else. "We're not advancing the cause of the Christian Science religion...We're humanely considering and helping people...who have paid into the system," he tells Safer.
Church members with health problems can go to Christian Science facilities where Medicare pays for their assisted feeding, the changing of bedpans and other non-medical care.
Much of the opposition to these payments comes from those who say Medicare is meant to cover only care prescribed by a doctor. Attorney Bob Bruno has filed a lawsuit charging that such payments are unconstitutional. "I think what Congress has done is tried to engraft a totally alien system of care onto the Medicare system," says Bruno, who also believes the payments constitute special treatment. "The fact that you don't choose to use a government service that's paid for by taxpayer money doesn't mean that you're entitled to have something special...based on your religion," he tells Safer.
Leslie Saunders, who stopped working at Medicare-funded Christian Science facilities, agrees. "Medicare pays for medical treatment under given guidelines. For Medicare to involve itself in Christian Science nursing means Medicare is trying to pay for theology," she tells Safer. She also says the only "treatment" allowed in such facilities is praying; the rules are so strict, she says, even patients short of breath are not given oxygen.
The Christian Science Church declined to be interviewed on camera for the story. But its lawyer, Michael McConnell, tells Safer there is nothing special about the Christian Science care that Medicare funds. "When the nurse changes the bedpan or helps a patient with feeding in the Christian Science facility, it's also the same kind of care that is being given in the hospital," he says. "It is simply a subset of that kind of care," says McConnell.