Healthcare sharing ministries: The greatest loophole ever sold
After decades of misfires, I have finally figured out an infallible way to get rich, without the unpleasant side effect of having to work hard for it.
First, go where the money is. Healthcare. The biggest segment of the economy, sure to grow even faster now that the law requires health insurance coverage for all Americans.
So, I’ll start a healthcare insurance company. People will give me money, and when they get sick, I will pay their medical bills. Keep a little profit, and I’m rich.
The only hard part is that it’s tricky predicting what those bills will be. If I guess too high, my premiums will be non-competitive. If I guess too low, I might go broke. So in my company, I will pay customers’ medical bills only if I have enough money left after I’ve paid my own generous salary. I will also decline to pay bills for people if I just don’t like them anymore, especially people with the gall to disagree with me on politics or religion.
How, you ask, will I find suckers willing to give me money for something like this? That’s the easy part. I’ll just tell people that God wants them to do it. I’ve even got a handy Bible verse that says so. People spend billions of dollars every year trying to make God happy, getting absolutely nothing for it. How hard can it be to persuade them to give God a little money if they think that will cover their medical bills?
But what about state insurance commissions? Surely they have rules governing what people can expect when they pay for insurance, nearly all of which my little scheme would violate. True; but with a little lobbying, I can get state legislatures to give God a special exemption for His insurance plan. In fact, others have already paved the way here, and most states already have such exemptions in place, typically passed by overwhelming majorities.
But, you say — and you think you’ve got me this time — the new healthcare law says everyone has to have real health insurance, satisfying certain minimum standards, which my plan definitely does not. Even for God, people aren’t going to buy real health insurance and pay me at the same time. Especially if they don’t want to go to jail for insurance fraud, which includes scheming to get covered twice for the same claim.
Again, not a problem. Like the members of Congress, you have not actually read this law. If you had, you’d have noticed Section 5000A(d)(2)(B), which exempts from the individual mandate any person who participates in a “healthcare sharing ministry,” which is defined as my little scheme. Bingo!
Wait a minute … I just read that section again. It says the exemption is only available for a “healthcare sharing ministry” that has been in continuous operation since 1990. And there are only three of them in the whole country — so I cannot start a new one. Damn! Once again, my dreams of wealth are shattered. But I’m used to that.
What an incredibly sweet deal for these three outfits. There’s only one way in the whole law for right-wingers to evade Obama’s Commie individual insurance mandate, and they own it — without any fear of competition! All three just happen to be evangelical Christian — equal protection of the laws is such an outdated notion.
Medi-share, Christian Healthcare Ministries, and Samaritan Ministries. These are the Exempt Three with the golden ticket, the exemption from both state health insurance regulation and the federal health insurance mandate. The secret ingredient that gets them out of regulation in most states is a little statement in their marketing materials that “This is not insurance,” and other fine print that makes clear the lack of hard promises in what they offer. They also use cutesy terminology. Instead of a “late fee,” for example, they have an “Extra Blessings” payment.
All this is buried under a mountain of unctuous anecdotes about how they generously paid six-figure medical bills to make such-and-such deserving Christian healthy and happy again, coupled with sanctimony about “trusting the Lord to provide in their time of need.”
All three also encourage healthy lifestyles by denying coverage to people who smoke, drink, have un-biblical sex, or in one case even over-eat. Encouraging healthy living is fine, but denying payment altogether to those who slip is a scam. “We were happy to take your money when you were 30, 170 pounds, and healthy. Now that you’re 50, 200 pounds, and have leukemia, we disown you for being fat. Try the emergency room – the taxpayers are always a soft touch.” Remember all the debate about coverage of pre-existing conditions when the national healthcare law was passed? None of those rules applies to these guys, who can and do limit or deny coverage for any pre-existing condition whenever they feel like it.
Are the people who run these funds con artists making themselves rich, or honest and selfless Christians? It’s impossible to say, because the exemption from regulation exempts their finances from public scrutiny. The federal law does require them to have an annual audit, but that can be conducted by any friendly Christian CPA of their own choosing. Moreover, audits aren’t designed to measure how rich the owners and executives are getting, but simply to assess the financial strength of the entity. And when an enterprise has lots of real assets and essentially no real obligations it is required to pay, how can it be anything but flush? We do know that the granddaddy of them all, Christian Healthcare Ministries (fka Christian Brotherhood), nevertheless went bankrupt a few years ago. A jury ruled that its big shots defrauded the customers of some $15 million spent on luxury houses, motorcycles, expensive cars and high salaries. One highly paid employee was a stripper, whom they were “trying to help.” (I like helping people, too.) Of course, these problems are completely in the past, and all three companies are now clean as the driven snow. Just ask them, and they’ll tell you so.
A subtle hint that obeying earthly law isn’t high on their priority list surfaced just last week. Although there is legislation in most states exempting them from insurance laws, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, not often thought of as a bastion of secularism, doesn’t happen to be one of them. The Kentucky insurance commission did its job by cracking down on Medi-share, and the Supreme Court of Kentucky quite properly ruled that fine print notwithstanding, Medi-share was illegally selling sham insurance. An injunction was issued to stop them, and that was the end of that.
Except it wasn’t. Medi-share kept right on rolling in Kentucky, continually advertising on Christian radio, with a sleight-of-hand change in the way customers pay for their non-insurance that, if anything, exposed them to even greater risk. On Thursday, Medi-share was hauled back in front of Franklin County Circuit Court on a contempt charge. The judge expressed surprise at seeing them again, saying “I thought this thing was over with.” If I were the judge, the phrase “and throw away the key” would work its way into my ruling somewhere. But never fear, Christians; Kentucky legislators under Tea Party lobbying are busily grandstanding to add a statutory exemption like other states have, to end this Nero-like persecution of the godly. That’s exactly the same pattern as was followed in Oklahoma: a conscientious insurance commissioner cracked down on the scam, only to have the rug pulled out from under her by the state legislature. Illinois is the only state with the guts to have an explicit ban on medical bill sharing ministries as a principal form of healthcare coverage.
Customer suits against these outfits are rare. In part, that’s because they set things up so there is never even a contract to sue on. In larger part, it’s because they have a little rule that anyone taking a complaint to a secular court is automatically cut off from receiving future payments from God.
With the effective date of the individual insurance mandate looming, do you think the Exempt Three are out there beating the drum to pull in more customers who are convinced that Obamacare is a fiendish Commie plot? Is the pope Catholic?
Speaking of Catholics, this little scam could soothe all the heartburn the church is having over the requirement that employer-provided healthcare plans must cover contraceptive services. The Exempt Three don’t have to cover contraception, abortion to save the life of the mother, IVF, drug rehab, or anything else they don’t feel like covering. The sticky wicket here is that all three are Protestant, not Catholic. But this problem can easily be overcome by means of a check, if it has enough zeroes on the end. All the bishops need to do is set up a bidding competition for which one of the three is willing to open a new division for Catholics, with proper ecclesiastical oversight. Then all the church schools, hospitals, universities, etc. can start funneling their tens of thousands of employees into what will soon become an enormous operation that can afford lots of motorcycles and employees to “help.” How ecumenical!
This is such a brilliant idea – why hasn’t it happened already? Several possibilities:
- The bishops aren’t smart enough to have thought of it.
- They have thought of it, but don’t want their employees covered by non-insurance without any regulatory safeguards.
- They’re hoping President Romney will either cave in to their exemption demands or repeal Obamacare altogether, with this as the fallback.
- They would rather be martyrs, fighting for a hopeless cause indefinitely, than do something practical to address what they say their problem is.
I’ll guarantee you it isn’t #1, and there’s a pretty small likelihood of #2. My money’s on #3: wouldn’t they see this as a delightful way to rub Obama’s nose in his own signature achievement? So here’s my prediction: if Obama wins, the new Catholic division of one of the Exempt Three will be announced to the world on January 21, 2013. You read it here first.