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Voices / Open Letter

Against our religion

We cannot participate in the Affordable Care Act, which discriminates against underprivileged people and allows corporations to make a profit by rationing health care

Dan DeWalt, one of the founders of this newspaper, is a woodworker and teacher at Leland & Gray Union High School. He is a longtime activist for social justice, clean energy, and peace.

Newfane

Dear IRS,

You have sent us a demand for $1,269.12 because we have not signed up for health insurance. I contested this demand upon its arrival on Sept. 21, 2018. Allow me to explain the reasons why.

Your agent suggested that we use Form 8965 to claim our exemption. While our religious belief is not specifically identified as an eligible exemption on the form, I will explain to you why we are indeed valid religious objectors to the Affordable Care Act.

Our religion is deeply grounded in the New Testament teachings of Jesus and has also been shaped and informed by studies into other religions and deep philosophical considerations of our place on the Earth and in the cosmos.

We embrace not only Jesus’ teachings that everyone, the least as well as the greatest, has an equal right to love, care, and compassion; we also extend that commitment to the Earth and the creatures and living entities upon it.

We don’t have a house of worship or a hymnal, we have the Earth around us as a tabernacle, and the sounds of life — birds, animals, running waters, wind — are our hymns.

Our religion demands that every being be treated with respect and that no one class of being shall ever be diminished for the benefit of another class of being.

Within the human realm, we are all required to care equally for each other and to ensure that no one is denied the essentials of life, food, water, breathable air, and care for their physical and emotional well-being.

* * *

The ACA, while well-intentioned, does not remotely meet these minimum requirements for our adherence.

Under the ACA, insurance companies are still empowered to to ration health care in a number of ways that are unequal and lead to disadvantaged people receiving sub-par health care or getting none at all.

Because the ACA is about money, rather than health care, it creates a massive gap between those who can afford full and adequate coverage and those who can’t afford one of the lesser plans, even if it is subsidized.

The nature of the economics of the act means that folks whose income is neither low enough for subsidy nor high enough to afford good coverage are out of luck, and, often, out of insurance.

The ACA guarantees that insurance companies will make a profit. That was the incentive for getting them to support the act. But these insurance companies, despite the guidelines in the ACA that are supposed to protect our coverage, still have the power to decide which procedures will be covered and which will not be.

Not only is there no equity in the coverage afforded the rich and the non-rich, there is great damage done to those on the bottom of the economic scale that leads to greater poor health outcomes and even premature death, compared to what the wealthy enjoy.

* * *

It goes against every aspect of our religious beliefs to participate in a system that discriminates against underprivileged people, leaving them more vulnerable and less well than their wealthy counterparts.

It goes against every aspect of our religious belief to participate in a system that allows corporations to make a profit by rationing health care.

The ACA was supposed to make sure that there is an adequate minimum coverage for folks, but that has not happened. Even if it did what it was supposed to, the ACA ignores entire fields of health care that millions of people rely upon to stay healthy.

One argument in favor of the ACA is that the government will subsidize the insurance premiums of poor Americans so that it is more possible for them to make the necessary payments. This is well-intentioned but doesn’t do anything to alter our inability to participate.

Poorer folks who get subsidies still are forced into a health-care realm that is not of their choosing, still are forced to pay money that may typically be used to cover rent, utilities, or food, to pay their premiums, and are still subject to additional uncovered expenses, should the medical care that has been foisted upon them by their insurance company include procedures or medications that the insurance will not cover.

* * *

In our own situation, we would certainly be eligible for subsidies. However, this means that our and other Americans’ tax dollars would be used to ensure insurance companies’ profits, while many Americans under their “care” would be denied adequate health care and will suffer for the lack. This is an immoral, unjust, and untenable situation that we cannot abide.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Hobby Lobby can deny women contraception because of the company’s owners’ religious beliefs. Nowhere in the Bible is there a word about contraception. The belief that led to the ruling is one interpretation of Christianity that has evolved with our modern world.

Our religious belief is just as strong, is rooted in an even-stronger moral basis, and is more consistent. (Unlike anti-abortion Christians who embrace the death penalty, for instance.)

Just as we do not spend our dollars doing business with corporations that are polluting the Earth or abusing their workers, we cannot participate in a system that treats our health as a commodity and does a better job of ensuring profits than it does of giving health care.

We would happily pay twice or three times our current tax bill (yes, we pay our taxes every year) if it meant that everyone received health care. Unfortunately, this would necessitate dismantling the health-insurance industry, whose lobbying efforts ensure that this will not happen anytime soon.

* * *

If you deny our religious exemption, we will have no choice but to appeal your decision and take it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

I would also like to make three other vital points.

First, as you know, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and will be repealed early next year. This should make this entire discussion a moot point.

Second, the current administration, who enforce the laws of the land, has vociferously opposed the ACA and promised to do everything in their power to dismantle it.

Third, even if we signed up against our principles and received subsidized coverage, the small amount that we would have to pay would be the same money that we now use to pay for our actual health care.

We use a variety of health practitioners to keep ourselves healthy and out of the medical/industrial system. Our required modest payments into an immoral insurance system would take away our health-care money, resulting in precisely the opposite of what the ACA is purported to do.

I know that you prefer to have people fill out the boxes, fit the mold, and allow you to make a simple determination of an outcome.

In this case, you will have to consider our argument, understand the depth and breadth of our religious beliefs, and realize that we cannot participate in the current ACA without violating our religious principles.

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