The US healthcare system can be summed up in one word: disaster. Millions of Americans live without health insurance, an issue that has long plagued presidential administrations. The Obama administration enacted the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which helped 20 million Americans gain the health coverage they could previously not afford. But rather than make improvements to an already beneficial system, the Trump administration wants to turn back the clock on Americans’ healthcare.
This health coverage crisis affects a range of communities. With his latest plan, Trump would significantly disadvantage single mothers, poor Americans, elderly Americans, people with pre-existing conditions (which is an expansive list), Medicaid recipients, and people with disabilities. Communities of color, the LGBTQ community, and women would also be disproportionately impacted. In fact, the beneficiaries of Trump’s healthcare “reform,” another Trump replacement word for “discrimination,” are a very small group of wealthy and healthy Americans. With no end in the near future to this healthcare travesty, outside groups are taking it upon themselves to provide coverage alternatives for those who can no longer afford care.
The religious community is among those taking a stab at providing healthcare. Christian Health Sharing Ministries are run by religious organizations. They often provide some type of healthcare coverage at a lower cost than most plans available on the market. The catch: these plans won’t cover everything, even a few necessities. Christian Healthcare Ministries, which claims to be the “biblical solution to healthcare costs,” discloses on its main website that it is not an insurance provider. Yet, this non-insurance was accepted under the ACA, has no enrollment period, and—because of its program structure—costs families far less for coverage. At first glance, these programs sound pretty great, even to non-Christians. The problem, however, is the very Christian principles customers are confined to by opting into this coverage. First, you must be a Christian to get this coverage, a condition even non-Christians are overlooking out of desperation. For some ministries this includes providing a signed affidavit from a minister. Beyond confirming your Christian faith, clients must abstain from the use of tobacco or any tobacco replacement products and the use of illegal drugs (no, they do not cover recovery programs), follow “biblical principles” regarding alcohol consumption, attend group worship, and have a US mailing address or working internet service.
The list of what this program will not cover is substantial. Conditions or individuals not covered include pregnancy at the time of application, adopted children with disabilities, any type of birth control or contraceptives, fertility treatments, surrogacy, sterilization treatments, genetic testing if used to determine a medical condition, hormone therapy or reassignment surgery, pregnancies of unwed mothers, alternative treatments of any kind, and chiropractic treatment. The lowest cost option for this coverage doesn’t even include many of the conditions or procedures on their already limited list of acceptable ones at $45 per month per unit (person). The plan that covers the most will cost $150 per month per unit, costing a single-parent family $300/month and a two-parent family of any size a minimum of $450/month. Still, that’s a drastic price cut compared to traditional insurance. Oh, and there is no guarantee your bills will be covered since the program relies on financial gifts to cover medical costs. This is a very important facet as complaints of unpaid bills are not taken lightly.
Even though health share ministry coverage covers the bare minimum with no guarantee and requires religious allegiance, they are increasing in popularity as a viable alternative to our current unstable healthcare system. Programs like these are designed for people who can’t afford insurance. They are presented as a viable option for healthcare coverage, and the price is enticing to those on a budget. That’s why Erica Jackson chose this coverage for her family when she decided to quit her job in order to care for her five children. The Jackson’s insurance bill went from $900 per month to $445 after switching to Medi-Share, another Christian health share.
The promises required to qualify for these programs are anything but Christian and are downright exploitative. It’s true that this is an optional program, but they follow the familiar trend of religious manipulation for monetary gain. I shouldn’t have to remind Christians of the Bible’s teachings on generosity and selflessness, but for those who are less versed:
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.
Freely you have received; freely give.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
Beyond the hypocrisy of their message and purpose, the programs face little oversight of their operations or even regulations they must abide by. Perhaps a small portion of people have benefited from these programs, but the majority of those who enroll in them won’t benefit. In fact, the customers who praise these programs are likely not sick often and face no significant illness. Serving as a placeholder for those who wish to simply opt out of the ACA—but most appealing to those who need coverage the most—these programs are nothing more than scams.