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Equitable Access to Care and Health Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WAXMAN. I thank the gentleman for yielding to me.

Mr. Speaker, I know that this legislation carries important personal significance for some of our colleagues, and I respect that, but I want to express some real concerns about the bill because I feel it is overly broad. It could seriously undermine the Affordable Care Act and would establish a bad precedent for our tax laws.

The bill states that individuals would not be required to obtain health insurance coverage if their ``sincerely held religious beliefs'' cause them to object to treatments that would be covered. The bill does not narrowly define ``sincerely held religious beliefs'' as those of Christian Scientists or other groups who rely on a religious method of healing. As a result, the bill would force the IRS to either accept virtually all attestations of exemption or to determine which Americans' religious beliefs meet that standard. This is impossibly difficult to enforce, and, frankly, it is not a role we want the IRS to take on.

If the IRS chose to define ``sincerely held religious beliefs'' broadly, H.R. 1814 could allow, essentially, anyone opposed to the Affordable Care Act to opt out of coverage. That would lead to an increase in the number of uninsured Americans, and it would shift costs on to other taxpayers. Even if we assume the IRS could set a standard, there are significant problems with the legislation.

The bill claims that individuals receiving ``voluntary'' medical care would lose their exemptions, but the IRS has no way to monitor individuals' use of voluntary medical care, making this totally unenforceable. Furthermore, individuals receiving ``involuntary'' care, such as expensive emergency care, would be allowed to remain exempt from the coverage requirement, passing the costs of their care on to hospitals and other taxpayers.

I understand this is a sensitive issue. If religious groups that receive Medicare and Social Security benefits do not want to obtain health insurance, we need to examine that issue carefully. This bill should have been the subject of hearings. It should have been marked up in committee. Unfortunately, it was not.

The Affordable Care Act is about moving our Nation towards universal health insurance coverage. That is the right thing for the health of our Nation. So I believe we need to tread very carefully when opening up new loopholes or exemptions, and we must be very cautious before assigning such sensitive duties to the IRS.

Because of these concerns, I cannot support this legislation at the present time and in its present form. I hope our colleagues in the Senate will take a careful look at it and make substantial changes before considering it further.


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