My wife is enrolled in Christian Health Care Ministries. She pays $1,000 a year for health insurance. The federal government will offer plans that may be cheaper for some families. But will they switch to federal health care insurance? I hope not.
When Jason Morris’ son Cole was two years old, he broke his thighbone and spent several weeks in a full-body cast. The medical bills came to about $13,000, but Morris, his wife, and six children don’t have health insurance. Instead they belong to Samaritan Ministries, an organization of devout Christians who chip in to cover each other’s medical bills. Following the usual process at Samaritan, members from all over the country mailed the Morris family small checks that added up to enough money to cover all the bills. “We had the emotional side of it,” says Morris, “but the financial side of it was completely taken care of.”
Samaritan has about 86,000 members spread among all 50 states, which makes it the largest of three “health care sharing ministries” in the U.S. Households of three or more are required to send $370 each month to another family to help cover the bills from a medical crisis. Headquartered in Peoria, Illinois, where 94 staffers coordinate the bill-sharing process, the organization is based on the belief that patients are ultimately responsible for their own medical bills. But in times of crisis, the community bands together to pitch in and help bear the burden. “Faith in God applied to health care,” is one of the organization’s mottos.
Samaritan may soon become a casualty of new incentives created by Obamacare, which does virtually nothing to do reduce third-party payments in delivering health care. When their bills are mostly covered by insurance companies or the government—which may also be heavily subsidizing their premiums as well—patients aren’t discerning shoppers.
Under Obamacare, most Samaritan members will be able to purchase health insurance policies that offer richer benefits for lower prices, thanks to significant taxpayer subsidies. Take, for example, the median Samaritan household, which has three members and an annual income of about $40,000. Under Obamacare, that family will pay around $2,500 dollars a year to buy a middle-of-the-road “silver” plan on the new health care exchanges. Why so cheap? Because taxpayers will pick up two-thirds of the total cost of the insurance premium. Compare that $2,500 price tag to the cost of an annual membership in Samaritan, which comes to $4,440, and that average family will save nearly $2,000 per year for quitting Samaritan and signing up for a subsidized insurance plan that’s more comprehensive. About 90 percent of Samaritan members have incomes low enough that they’ll qualify for at least some federal subsidies on the exchanges. Depending on a variety of factors, households making up to 400 percent of the poverty line may qualify for premium subsidies.
Samaritan’s executive vice president, James Lansberry, is optimistic that most Samaritan members will stick with the ministry because of its theological mission. He’s also convinced that the biggest threat from Obamacare is already out of the way. Lansberry led a successful fight to get language inserted into the law that specifically exempts health care sharing ministries from the individual mandate, which would have required that members buy a traditional health insurance policy or pay significant penalties. “We look at our exemption from the individual mandate as a miracle from God,” he says. Regarding the exchanges, “members will stick with us even if it doesn’t make financial sense, because by belonging they’re expressing their religious beliefs.”
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