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My Turn: The individual insurance mandate, individualized

This past summer, I, a somewhat politically ignorant, country-loving New Hampshire native, found myself in the most unlikely place: Washington, D.C. As an intern for the Federal Christian Science Committee on Publication, the legislative group for the Christian Science Church, I became well acquainted with downtown D.C., spreadsheets, our legislators on Capitol Hill and, most important, the Affordable Care Act.

As a Christian Scientist, I actively rely on prayer for preventative and curative care for any issue that arises. In addition, I have access to Christian Science practitioners for prayerful assistance, as well as Christian Science nurses and Christian Science nursing facilities, which provide religious nonmedical care with services such as bandaging, mobility, food preparation and bathing that allow someone to be physically comfortable while undergoing prayerful treatment. While the Christian Science Church leaves all health care decisions up to each individual, most Christian Scientists choose not to use medical care, relying successfully and solely on Christian Science treatment. Having never used medical care, medical health insurance hasn’t seemed relevant for me or other Christian Scientists – until now.

With the exchanges opening up last week and the ACA individual mandate taking effect come January, I and other Christian Scientists, like many people in this country, are left wondering what to do about medical health insurance. Almost definitely as a result of oversight in the rushed drafting process for the ACA, there is no religious exemption for Christian Scientists. Only the Amish, the Mennonites, and Health Care Sharing Ministries can claim exemption to the individual mandate under a “religious conscious objection.” It doesn’t seem fair, however, for Christian Scientists to pay into a health care system that does not provide the type of care they have used throughout their lives: prayer and Christian Science practitioners and nurses.

For this reason, it made sense for me to go to D.C. I had a wonderful opportunity to be a voice in a legislative issue directly affecting me, and I also could take the time to learn more of what Congress is all about.

What I saw there was – don’t fall out of your chair – encouraging.

By working with the Christian Science Committee on Publication to find a solution to the lack of provision for Christian Scientists in the ACA, I met people at every stage of the game: constituents, lobbyists, staffers and even some congressmen.

With most of these individuals, when my colleagues and I took the time to explain our issue in a face-to-face conversation, something amazing happened: People not only listened from both sides of the aisle, but also heard us, and helped us move forward on our legislative efforts.

While Christian Scientists do not yet have a solution to the lack of a provision under the ACA, we have taken the first and most important step.

By considering all the ways to be included in or excluded from the new health care law, Christian Scientists have learned how to be part of the political process, building relationships and becoming a respected presence on Capitol Hill. We have allowed our voices to be heard, and though the things we say may be quite different, they matter. Our health care needs, like everyone else’s, matter.

When individuals become people and not just numbers, individuals’ needs are much easier to recognize, and address.

Sure, there are more than 300 million people in our country, each of whom has singular needs, but the more voices behind those collective needs that can be heard, the better. The only way you can address a problem is if you know about it – if you hear about it – first.

Which is why we shouldn’t all just throw our hands up and say, “Well, to hell with it,” about Congress, about the ACA, about anything. The purpose behind the ACA, after all, is to provide for everyone’s needs. The implementation may not be perfect (let’s be honest, right now it may be only barely functional), but like someone new to parenting, it’ll get better, it’ll become more effective.

And eventually, akin to the weathered and dependable parents like my own, our health care system will find a way to provide for as many needs as it can, and for the ones it can’t, we’ll have been given the tools to figure it out.

(Elodie Reed grew up in Bow. She is a reporter for the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript in Peterborough.)

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