Conservative Christians used their lobbying muscle to create a gaping loophole in health care reform's individual mandate, reports Sarah Posner in the American Prospect. Members of so-called Health Care Sharing Ministries are now exempt from the requirement to carry health insurance. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

 

About 100,000 Americans belong to HCSMs. Members of these non-profit groups pledge to pay each other's health care bills, in accordance with the Christian imperative to help the sick. Posner explains that the Alliance of Health Sharing Ministries has successfully lobbied state legislators to ensure that these organizations remain completely unregulated.

Lest you think that an HCSM would be an attractive alternative to mandatory corporate health insurance, consider the eligibility criteria for Samaritan Ministries International, one of the country's largest HCSM with 46,000 members:

"To join the HCSM, applicants must agree to a statement of faith that they are a "professing Christian, according to biblical principles" set out in Romans 10:9-10 and John 3:3. They must agree to adhere to guidelines that include no sex outside of "traditional Biblical marriage," no smoking or drugs, and mandatory church attendance. They must agree to pay their membership fee and monthly share, and they must also agree not to sue Samaritan in the event of any dispute because "Christians are not to sue each other in the civil courts or other government agency."" [Prospect]

To make matters worse, members have to pay their own medical bills out of pocket and beg the group for reimbursement. To get reimbursed, they have to publish their "needs" in the group newsletter and hope that someone sends cash.

Imagine having to publish the bills for your embarrassing medical treatments in order to get reimbursed. Reminds me of that episode of The Office where evil Dwight Schrute takes a hands-on approach to revamping the company's health insurance benefits by forcing employees to call out their medical issues in front of their colleagues:

Dwight: I'm now going to read out loud your submitted medical conditions. When you hear yours read, please raise your hand to indicate that it is real. If you do not raise your hand, it will not be covered.

Stanley: What about confidentiality?

Dwight: You know what? You have forfeited that privilege. I have tried to treat you all as adults, but obviously I am the only adult here. Number one, inverted penis.

(No one raises their hand)

Meredith: Could you mean vagina? Because if you do, I want that covered.

Dwight: I thought your vagina was removed during your hysterectomy?

Meredith: A uterus is different from a vagina. I still have a vagina.

Insurance companies are rightly regarded as the epitome of robber baron capitalists, but insurance is a heavily regulated industry. It has to be. Health insurers are handling huge amounts of other people's money, which is supposed to be set aside for life-saving treatment. The potential for fraud, waste, and abuse is huge. Failures could leave people destitute. It's only a matter of time before one of these unregulated outfits is exposed as a massive Ponzi scheme lining the pockets. It will turn out the money all those $10 checks the members sent to pay for a premie baby's incubator actually bought hookers and blow for a televangelist. 

Since there's no regulation of HCSMs, there's no guarantee that there will be enough money to cover all the bills. Members are also subject to a lifetime benefits cap of $100,000--which anyone could easily exceed with a single major accident or illness. What if your HCSM decides that you've been slutty and wants to cut off your benefits? What if it's not even true? Too bad. As Posner notes, above, members sign away their right to sue.

Opponents of health care reform like to paint themselves as guardians of freedom set against Big Government interference. We're warned that if the government is involved in health insurance, it will want to control every aspect of our lives. Yet, I've never heard the government or the insurance industry telling people they have to swear off premarital sex in order to get health care.