Friday, January 9, 2009

Christians, Acts 2&4, and health care

From Michelle Andrews in USN&WR...

When it comes to health insurance, thousands of people are counting on the Lord—or at least his faithful—to provide. Through Christian nonprofits like Samaritan Ministries of Peoria, Ill., they contribute modest monthly "shares" to pay each other's medical bills. The programs "function like an insurance company, except it's a lot cheaper and a lot less red tape," says Rocco Dapice, a pastor in Tarrytown, N.Y., who three years ago signed on as one of Samaritan's 12,800 households. The Dapice family is responsible for any medical bill under $300, but anything over that amount—like the $16,000 tab for the birth of a third child last year—is 100 percent covered. The Dapices' monthly share of $285 is in line with the $273 premium a typical family pays every month for employer-sponsored healthcare, according to Kaiser Family Foundation figures.

...members must be Christians who belong to a church (and have a letter from their minister to prove it). They sign a pledge committing to squeaky-clean living: no tobacco, no excessive drinking, no illegal drugs. Sex outside marriage is verboten. Should they fail to steer clear of such behaviors, they'll typically be on their own for medical expenses that result....

Medical sharing ministries first appeared in the early '80s, inspired by biblical teachings encouraging Christians to carry each other's burdens. Their websites and materials state explicitly that they're not providing health insurance, which they're not authorized to do. Instead, they say they're acting as clearinghouses for member-to-member sharing, which is permitted by law in a number of states. However, when these organizations take the step of collecting members' money and pooling it, then using it to cover claims, that starts to look like they're assuming risk on their members' behalf, a hallmark of insurance. State regulators take notice, and there have been numerous clashes over the years....


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