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February 19, 1997

Justice Department Calls Medicare Payments to Christian Science Sanitoria Unconstitutional

JAMA. 1997;277(7):520-522. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540310018011

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IN A move that took all parties by surprise, the US Justice Department has switched sides in the fight over the constitutionality of provisions of federal law that allow Medicare and Medicaid funds to pay for Christian Science nursing care.

On January 23, Attorney General Janet Reno informed Congress that the Justice Department will no longer defend those provisions. In an 11-page letter to the US Senate Legal Counsel, Reno laid out the department's legal reasons for its turnabout from its previous position.

At first the Justice Department defended the constitutionality of the provisions when it represented defendants Donna Shalala, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Bruce C. Vladeck, administrator of the Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA), in a lawsuit filed by Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) Inc and 2 taxpayers. CHILD Inc is a nonprofit advocacy group based in Sioux City, Iowa, that