I have it on good authority that Christians are nice people. They are super nice, and super generous. If you are in certain kinds of trouble, a Christian will do anything to help you. Prayer chains will stretch miles. Casseroles will multiply. Christians know that they are super nice. In fact, they trust each other with their very lives, or at least the part of the body that rust doth corrupt. They are, however, a tad judgmental, particularly with regard to “moral” principles and certain branches of government. It seems to some Christians that health insurance has become one of these issues. Health insurance is Business, Government, and Coercion, plus some plans cover abortion and contraceptives. So Christians have come up with their own solution: The Health Care Sharing Ministry.
Here’s how the Ministry works, at least at Samaritan Ministries International:
Each member commits to sending a set “Share” amount each month. These “Shares” are sent directly through the mail from one household to another, to the members with “Needs”. Samaritan Ministries uses a database that randomly matches Shares to Needs, so that the Sharing is coordinated and Shares go to the appropriate members with Needs.
OK, so it is just health insurance but the language is different. Shares are premiums and Needs are beneficiaries. At Samaritan Ministries that “Share” is about $400/month. Some organizations have members sent the money directly to the Needs folks, some have members sent the money to a central location from which it is distributed. So far, so good.
Here’s the problem: there is no regulation on these groups, and no guarantees. Here is a quote from the Health Care Sharing Alliance, an advocacy group promoting Health Care Ministries:
There is usually no pool of funds, but even when there is, there is no contract for future benefits and no assessment of risk. In fact, every member of a Health Care Sharing Ministry is responsible for paying his or her own medical bills. The purpose of the Ministry is simply to organize other people who voluntarily choose to help fellow members pay their medical bills in keeping with Biblical commands to “share one another’s burdens.”
(The “share one another’s burdens” comes from Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”)
Ok, so the health ministries are just putting a human face on beneficiaries. It feels better to pay into a system in which you know who is getting the benefit. Especially is you agree with their world view. Again the Health Care Sharing Alliance:
Insurance executives would think this is crazy — how can you rely on the goodwill of other people for paying bills? Exactly. It makes no sense at all in the world of business. It only makes sense in the Kingdom of God and the world of faithful believers. All others should stick with the insurance model.
Oh. So relying on goodwill is really only for believers. Which is just as well, because the Health Care Ministries benefits come with certain caveats.
1. No coverage for preventive services
2. No coverage for mental illness
3. No coverage for pre-existing conditions (sometimes)
4. You can’t sue the organization
5. No coverage for injuries caused by morally questionable behavior, such behavior I assume to be determined by whoever is administering these plans. So STDs, HIV, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, drunk driving accidents, depression, schizophrenia… you’re out of luck.
So Paul’s letter to the Galatians really says that people who are true believers should share the burdens of other true believers unless the true believer’s behavior is not in keeping with the behavior deemed appropriate by said true believers.
It would also be unfortunate for anybody with an unexpected premature infant or surgical complication – Samaritan only covers costs up to $250,000.
Ok, but maybe there are other reasons why Christians are opting out of regular health insurance. Maybe health insurance is too expensive and these Health Care Ministries are cheaper. Many Christians are in lower income brackets. The Pew Research center says that 35% of Christian families make less than $30,000 per year, and number that increases to 53% in African-american families. Abby Goodnough of the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1LTcSTJ
) spoke to one family who had decided on a Ministry option. The husband is a machinist and the mother is a stay-at-home mom. They say that their premiums and deductibles are too high. They would probably be eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. They might also get medicare, except they live in Texas, which has chosen not to expand Medicare because it was Obama’s idea and they’re Republicans and most Christians are Republicans and Oh isn’t that
Sorry. I digress.
Here’s Ms. Goodnough on the Ministry response to this objection:
Acknowledging that many families can qualify for subsidized insurance policies with free preventive care through the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Lansberry [James Lansberry, executive vice president of Samaritan Ministries International said that most new members were not “joining primarily on price; they are joining primarily on principle.”
On principle. The same principle that Christian Healthcare Ministries of Ohio invoked when the guys in charge spent $15 million on homes, vehicles and excessive salaries out of the central fund where members had sent payments.
I hate health insurance as much as anybody. But trusting your money and your life on a principle is dangerous.