By now, it’s become a familiar story: many Americans have either lost their health insurance or are paying significantly more for it, all because of the so-called “Affordable Care Act,” otherwise known as “Obamacare.” (Sorry, Nancy Pelosi. Credit for a terrible idea where credit is due.)
In other cases, individuals simply don’t feel comfortable turning over their health records to a manifestly unscrupulous government.
If you can’t afford health insurance or choose not to get it, you face monetary penalties. Exactly what those penalties are seems difficult to explain, but we do know they grow increasingly steep as time goes on. Few realize that there is an alternative, however, to opting into the system they’ve cornered us into, or to opting out altogether. These are known as “Health Care Sharing Ministries“.
According to the Affordable Care Act, Sec. 1501, Pg. 148, a health care sharing ministry is an organization the “members of which share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs and share medical expenses among members in accordance with those beliefs and without regard to the State in which a member resides or is employed.”
In other words, it’s not insurance. It’s a program in which members make a monthly monetary donation which is matched with the needs of other members who face medical bills, thus covering each others’ medical costs through a program of mutual, voluntary giving. The programs are structured in such a way that it’s not just a “give what you want, when you can” situation. There are coverage levels. There are tiers. If you pay so much a month, your annual out-of-pocket expenses will be adjusted accordingly. It looks and feels a lot like insurance, and based on the satisfied testimonials of many who have participated over the years, it operates in a similar, if more personal way. Members pray for each other and help each other meet their needs in a biblical fashion. The book of Acts is referenced in some of the literature, and at least one of the major organizations cites Hebrews 13:16: “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
From all appearances, these are far more affordable options than traditional health care, with similar coverage and a Christian approach. Which is why my wife and I have been considering them.
Two of the most established of the Health Care Sharing Ministries are Medishare and Samaritan Ministries. And you’ll note that each requires a personal commitment from prospective members to live by biblical principles, abstain from certain activities like extra-marital sex, illegal drug use, alcohol abuse, or the use of tobacco (Medishare bans tobacco altogether; Samaritan’s guidelines say “a rare celebratory cigar or pipe, e,.g. at the birth of a baby, is an allowed exception”). If these requirements sound vaguely protestant, it’s because they are. These organizations are, by and large, Evangelical Christian in profession. On that token, there is also a statement of faith, which has given some Catholics pause:
I believe that man was created in the image of God, but because of sin was alienated from God. Alienation can be removed by accepting God’s gift of salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-10) which was made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection. This faith will be evidenced by the works that we do (James 2:17).
This is creeping close to a “faith alone” statement, but could probably agreed to in principle by most Catholics who interpret it in a more holistic way. (And don’t get me started on the “rare celebratory cigar” – define “rare”. Does a bonfire celebrating friendship and joie de vivre count?)
When considering the aspects of these admittedly attractive plans that made me slightly uncomfortable, it got me to wondering: why is there no Catholic option?
I first thought of the Knights of Columbus, which is one of the oldest insurance organizations in America. Unfortunately, they don’t have a program like this. Rumors had circulated for a couple of years that there were Catholics trying to organize just such an alternative. But every time I followed a link from an old post I dug up, I hit a 404 page or an expired domain. It would appear that none of these have gotten off the ground.
One of the key challenges to such an alternative appears to be embedded within the health care legislation itself. In order to qualify as an organization that exempts members from the mandated coverage, the law states that a Health Care Sharing Ministry must be one “which (or a predecessor of which) has been in existence at all times since December 31, 1999, and medical expenses of its members have been shared continuously and without interruption since at least December 31, 1999…”
So, no starting up a new organization. Not unless you’re able to partner with an existing organization to carry on the torch under new guiding principles. This is something that Solidarity Health Share, one of the rumored Catholic health care sharing ministries, was trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of life for the group on the web, and the most recent articles I can find about them were published early last year.
This means that the search for a Catholic option goes on. Until then, the health care sharing ministries — particularly the well-established ones — seem like a worthwhile alternative to consider for anyone looking to opt-out of the Obamacare system or avoid crippling increases in insurance costs.
If you’ve had experiences with any of these organizations, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.