Are Muslims Exempt from Obama Health Care Law?

Chain Email Claims Insurance is Banned by Islam

A Muslim woman walks in an ethnically a diverse neighborhood in Queens.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Are Muslims exempt from carrying health insurance under the health care reform law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010?

At least one widely circulated email claims that Muslims are indeed exempt from The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's "individual mandate" provision, which requires Americans to carry health insurance or face financial penalties.

"Muslims are specifically exempted from the government mandate to purchase insurance, and also from the penalty tax for being uninsured," the email reads. "Islam considers insurance to be 'gambling,' 'risk-taking' and 'usury' and is thus banned. Muslims are specifically granted exemption based on this."

The email immediately raises a red flag given widespread rumors that Obama is secretly a Muslim.

So is there any truth to it?

Exemptions From Health Care Reform Law

The health care reform law does, in fact, include a "religious conscience" clause that allows certain "recognized religious sects" an exemption to the individual mandate.

The health care reform law defines those sects as ones that are also exempt from Social Security payroll taxes under 26 U.S. Code section 1402(g)(1). In other words, religious sects that seek exemption from the health care reform law's individual mandate must also waive all benefits from Social Security and Medicare.

The health care reform law does not, however, specify which religious sects are, or are not, eligible for such an exemption - Muslim or otherwise.

Historically, the overwhelming majority of religious sects that have sought and received exemptions from Social Security are Mennonite and Amish groups.

Most if not all Mennonite and Amish groups eschew traditional, commercial health insurance in favor of plans set up by their church districts.

Could Muslims Seek Exemption from Health Care Reform Law

Could Muslims seek exemption from the health care reform law? Yes, but they have given no indication of intending to do so.

Muslims living in non-Islamic countries such as the United States do not believe it is a sin to comply with the health care reform law.

The Muslim scholar Sheikh Muhammed Al-Munajjid advises those practicing Islam in such countries: "If you are forced to take out insurance and there is an accident, it is permissible for you to take from the insurance company the same amount as the payments you have made, but you should not take any more than that. If they force you to take it then you should donate it to charity."

Until that belief changes, the email about Muslims exempt from the health care reform law being circulated by conspiracy theorists remains bogus.

Is Congress Exempt from Obamacare?

In the uproar over the law’s passage, claims that members of Congress had exempted themselves from Obamacare quickly spread across social media. However, the law actually singled out lawmakers—Republicans and Democrats—and their staffs by forcing them to give up their standard government employee health insurance and buy insurance from the Obamacare health care marketplaces. While lawmakers and their staffs do get their traditional employer contribution to put toward a plan from the marketplaces, they must still get insurance like everyone else to avoid paying a tax penalty.

Who is Exempt from Obamacare?

In fact, there are two categories of individuals who are exempt from Obamacare: criminals and Native Americans.

Incarcerated Criminals 

The Affordable Care Act specifically provides that “incarcerated individuals excluded.” The health care of inmates is the responsibility of the prisons housing them. The level of care inmates receive varies by state, but typically includes regular check-ups and emergency care.

Native Americans

Members of federally recognized Native Indian tribes are exempt from Obamacare. While they are not required to have insurance, they receive free health care through the U.S. Indian Health Service under one of several long-standing treaties with the federal government.

Updated by Robert Longley