Christians have their own alternative to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to a story on Fox News’ website, these are health care sharing ministries, where networks of believers share in paying for each others’ health care costs.
These health care sharing ministries work somewhat like insurance, according to some of the people Fox News spoke with. Customers pay premiums, have co-pays, and they file claims. They have insurance cards that they show at the doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital. They have deductibles. These ministries are so popular that the country’s three biggest have a total of 242,000 members.
Health care sharing ministries are exempt from the ACA.
Health care sharing ministries are considered religious non-profits, so they’re exempt from the ACA, provided they’ve been around for the last 15 years. This is even though they don’t cover routine medical services, like annual physicals. There’s also no guarantee of payment for any service, and they may or may not cover you if you have a pre-existing condition.
Members are also restricted in how they behave. They can’t smoke, do drugs, or have sex outside of marriage, and their “permission” to drink is very limited. In short, they have to live a “Christian lifestyle.” The CEO of Medi-Share, one of the largest health care sharing ministries, told Fox News, “There’s definitely an economic benefit, a windfall if you would, by living healthier lives.” Health care sharing ministries also don’t pay for things they consider “immoral,” like abortion or contraception.
These ministries work like co-ops, rather than for-profit insurance companies.
The members of these groups decide what should and should not be covered. They’re fine with deciding not to cover abortions or contraception, and as religious non-profit organizations, that’s their right, even under law. The pools of funds do generally cover major bills, though, so the rest of us actually aren’t footing the bill for the costs people belonging to these ministries incur.
The goal of health care reform, though, is to ensure that people have broad coverage for health care and a protected from the financial risks of serious illness or injury. According to MIT economics professor John Gruber, health care sharing ministries violate that goal. They can go bankrupt and leave their customers in the lurch, because they aren’t required to maintain a certain amount of solvency. They aren’t required by law to cover specific services. So if the members decide the ministry shouldn’t cover something, for whatever reason, even if it’s something expensive, you won’t have coverage for it.
Fox & Friends First says that enrollment in health care sharing ministries is growing faster than enrollment in Obamacare. Since October 1, 2013, 29,000 people have enrolled in Medi-Share. Compare that to the more than 4 million that have enrolled in Obamacare since then. The health care sharing ministries simply aren’t big enough to outpace Obamacare, despite what pundits and contributors to Fox News think.
Might it be only a matter of time before the religious right floats a model similar to these as an alternative to the ACA?
Nobody’s really pushing health sharing ministries to replace Obamacare. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if some in the religious right start pushing similar things as the GOP desperately tries to come together on some sort of alternative plan. Health care sharing ministries are completely voluntary and it’s “people helping people.” The government would regulate very little, except possibly what we can eat, drink, and do with ourselves. That’s exactly what the religious right wants; small government, except where individual lifestyles and choices are concerned. One can hope that these people realize the pitfalls of pushing these as viable solution to our health care payment problems.