January 30, 2023

Christian health insurance alternative isn’t very Christian


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A man holds his COVID vaccination card while waiting to get his shot at at an event by the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry targeting members of the Hispanic community in August 2021.

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One of the podcasts I listen to fairly regularly has begun featuring a new sponsor, one of the many health insurance alternatives marketed to Christians.

I’ve heard troubling things about this kind of faith-based organization, but finding it as a sponsor of a pastor I respect made me want to take another look.

Historically many of the institutions responsible for huge advances in public health began as Christian ministries. If some Christians are attempting to reimagine healthcare in our country, isn’t that a good thing? I was curious, so I clicked the link to get more information.

There’s a lot I genuinely admire. Members give a set amount of money each month, less than a typical insurance premium. But — and they are very clear about this — this isn’t an Christian insurance company, it is a health care sharing ministry. Members make gifts —and those individual gifts are pooled and then qualifying members’ bills are paid from that collective pot of money. They specify that if you have a legal requirement to carry health insurance, joining the ministry will not meet that requirement.

They state repeatedly that no bill is guaranteed to be covered by the ministry. But belonging gives members a practical way to live out the biblical imperative to bear one another’s burdens — those who have, give; those who need, take.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details, which soon started showing up in my inbox. While this may be a viable alternative to the health insurance industry, I don’t believe you can call it a Christian one.

The main selling point in the flood of offers I began receiving is how much money I would save if I become a member. Joining the ministry would cost me less and benefit me more. I’m suspicious of any seller making that claim. But even if it’s true I reject it as a value for Christian ministry.

Those who follow Christ are called to imitate him — this requires costly sacrifice. The paradox at the center of the gospel is that salvation is free but costs us everything. There is no such thing as cheap grace. I don’t see why Christians should feel entitled to cheap healthcare.

But my deeper concern is in the explanation of how they can achieve this “less for more” outcome — by using “biblical values” to limit who can belong to this ministry and which bills will to be covered. Only Christians in fellowship can participate, but that value in itself is un-Christian.

The gospel is based on the revolutionary premise that outsiders are welcomed in — a community that only exists to serve believers is built on exclusion and becomes anti-Christ. We are not a people who hoard what is greatest for ourselves, but who trust in the grace of God to provide when we share all we possess with those in need.

Admittedly, radical generosity is unlikely to be a profitable business strategy, which is why ministries aren’t supposed to generate profits. But even more troubling are the limits placed around what care can be covered. Any treatment that is the result of “unbiblical” behavior is uncovered — no health care for sinners. So no treatment for addicts, no care for the morbidly obese or those who indulge in “reckless” lifestyles, or to those with preexisting conditions until they have paid in — err…gifted — for 60 consecutive months.

And, most astonishingly in this Christmas season, no coverage for pregnancies that occur out of wedlock. So this ministry model for believers would literally deny healthcare to the baby Jesus. You get the care you deserve, but only when you deserve it.

These ministry leaders believe a healthcare system based on “biblical values” provides care to the deserving but denies care to the undeserving. You could argue such a system allows a more equitable distribution of resources, but it’s not based on the core Christian concept of grace.

A healthcare bill sharing collective that rewards people for making responsible choices might be self-sustaining, but it’s not a Christian ministry.

Jesus came to heal and care and include sinners — to set captives free, be good news to the poor and give sight to the blind. In short, to give people goodness they need and don’t deserve. His community doesn’t weed out the high risk undesirables — it exists for them especially. All Christian ministries, whether they provide healthcare or anything else, should do the same.

Kate Murphy is pastor at The Grove Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.