The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


January 3, 2010

Amish eye loophole in health care proposals

Exemption could prevent fines for sect over insurance

SUNBURY — While selling food at an area farmer’s market Wednesday, a Valley Amish man said his community opposes the national health care bill which, if passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, could mandate that all Americans have medical coverage or face a fine.

“We try and not depend on the government for any type of insurance,” the Amish man said. “However, if it is going to happen, we are hoping something can be worked out for us.”

Pennsylvania is home to 381 Amish church districts, 12 of them in Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties, according to a study by The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.

The commonwealth is second only to Ohio with nearly 52,000 Amish residents.

Many of those in the Amish man’s Valley community participate in optional insurance coverage through their church — not from private or public firms, as would be required by the legislation.

The Senate bill would phase in an eventual $750 fine in 2016 for those who have not purchased qualifying health care coverage, unless they could not find a plan that would cost less than 8 percent of their income. The House bill would require a fine equal to 2.5 percent of a person’s income if he does not carry insurance. Those who cannot find a plan that costs less than 12 percent of their income would be exempt.

For the Amish, however, there appears to be a loophole through which they can escape the possible mandate.

“There is a religious exemption in the bill,” said Roseanne Placey, spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, “which would apply to them, since they believe the religious duty of communities is to provide for one another when they are sick.”

Josh Drobnyk, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, D-10 of Dimock, confirmed the existence of the exemption, which would release an Amish person or Old Order Mennonite from the individual mandate.

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