Heretic on the Hill: Let’s Stop the Christian Insurance Scam Before It Grows

On Veterans Day be sure to take a minute to think about the veterans you know (and don’t know), thank them for their service, and if it seems appropriate ask if there’s anything you can do for them this weekend.

A month into the new fiscal year, Congress has passed three of the 12 bills that fund all the government agencies for 12 months. Fortunately for veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs is included in one of them. For Congress this is like eating your dessert first; everyone likes to say they support the veterans and that they voted for the veterans spending bill to prove it. 

The Veterans Health Administration will receive about $120 billion to run the largest healthcare delivery system in the country for 16 million veterans.  The VA generally provides as good as or better health care than you find across the rest of the healthcare system, although there are certainly exceptions and the bureaucracy can be exhausting.

But I’m here today to tell you about a new bill in Congress that addresses a relatively smaller portion of the healthcare system. Healthcare sharing ministries (HSMs) are health insurance clubs that market themselves like insurance mostly to Christian communities and audiences. People pay in monthly but the HSMs don’t guarantee payment for claims, and too many times they do not pay in full, because they don’t have to. If people don’t read the fine print, they often don’t see that coming.  HSMs are not legally insurance companies so they are not regulated by state insurance agencies, which leaves people with no recourse when there is a dispute. HSMs are growing rapidly.

HSMs frequently require participants to agree that they will live a “Christian lifestyle” so if someone finds herself pregnant and unmarried she will likely find herself without coverage. Members of the LGBTQ community are by definition not eligible to join. The “Christian lifestyle” agreement gives the HSMs excuses to drop people when they become expensive to cover. HSMs are also not required to provide the same coverage that real insurers must provide under Obamacare and they can refuse to cover preexisting conditions.

Why are HSMs a problem for the broader population, like us? First, they are cheaper than real insurance so they tend to attract younger, healthier people which weakens the broader insurance market. Remember, the idea behind insurance is to spread the risk, not eliminate the risk.

Second, insurance brokers are marketing HSMs more and more to nonreligious customers who may not be familiar with the risks and are attracted by the costs. One of SCA’s coalition members, American Atheists, was looking for coverage for some of their employees and the broker they talked to pitched them on a healthcare sharing ministry. I’m not making that up. The broker didn’t even immediately give up when AA pushed back on the quality of the product being pitched. And last night in the car I had a music station on and there was a commercial for an HSM, tied to open enrollment season like it’s real insurance. The number to call was something, something, something, 855-BIBLE. Again not making that up.

Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) just this week introduced a bill that would do three things: 

  • Better inform consumers by requiring more and clearer disclosure by HSMs during enrollment.
  • Provide new HSM data to regulators about enrollment, complaints, payments and reimbursements.
  • Ensure that insurance brokers inform customers when they are eligible for better, more comprehensive health coverage.

I and several other SCA coalition members have met with a dozen House offices to build support for Congressman Huffman’s bill. It would do a great deal to improve the situation around Healthcare Sharing Ministries. Please use our Action Alert to ask your member of Congress to support HR 6302, the Health Share Transparency Act.


Spreading Happiness

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