By: Alieta Eck, MD
When my husband and I spent two years in Mexico, we became very thankful for our own country where we were protected from "organized thuggery." At regular intervals we would have a visit from a uniformed police officer, letting us know that we needed to pay something like $10 to be sure that our house would not be robbed. Of course that seemed strange, as the job of protecting the neighborhood ought to be a normal function of the police. Yet we found if we did not pony up a break-in would occur, as sure as the sun rising in the morning. There seemed to be a direct connection between the police and the thugs. It was great to get back to America in 1978.
But we have watched a similar scenario occur in America taking the form of the government protecting the health insurance industry. In 1985, a surgeon would be paid $2,400 to remove a diseased gallbladder, and his assistant would receive $600. The hospital would get about $4,000. Insurance premiums were quite reasonable, with a family paying about $300/month for a $500 deductible policy. Not bad— people got good care, and the price for insurance was just about right. If someone did not have insurance, a payment plan would be set up, and the bills would still be paid.
Today, for the same operation, the surgeon gets $600, the assistant gets nothing and the hospital bills come to about $25,000. Insurance is able to negotiate that hospital bill down to $5,000. To add insult to injury, the insurance premiums have skyrocketed to $1,500-2,000/month in New Jersey, arguably the most highly regulated state in the union. Insurance is unaffordable, hospitals bills are astronomical, and the physicians are considering early retirement. If someone does not have insurance, he goes through many hoops to get a lower bill. He needs protection.
ObamaCare will make things worse by further consolidating the power of the insurance/hospital cartel. It seems like a form of organized crime, where the only reason to buy insurance would be to be protected from the huge hospital bills. And the hospitals still have the nerve to conduct charity fundraisers!
The medical health sharing ministries are an oasis in the desert of high prices and poor access to care. Started in the 1980s, they are voluntary associations of people of like faith who wish to follow the Biblical mandate of "bearing one another's burdens." Since they do not collect "premiums," they are not insurance, and thus are exempt from having to work under the burden of the Departments of Banking and Insurance in each state.
In one of the ministries, members deposit a given amount each month into an account in their own names. Each month the ministry receives medical bills, has many reduced to a reasonable amount, and then uses the power of attorney to remove money from one member’s account and place it into the account of the one who has the need. With another ministry, each member is notified of the member to whom he is to send his monthly allotment. There is no pooling of funds, but rather complete transparency. And the amount requested each month is not unlike the amount we gave to an insurance company in 1985. Very reasonable.
Every health sharing ministry member I know is thrilled that he has been able to avoid the huge premiums of medical insurance. Our own family, members since 1997, has saved well over $100,000, money we could use to send our children to a private Christian school. And members also take comfort in the fact that others are praying for them when they encounter catastrophic illnesses. When ObamaCare was passed in 2010, health sharing ministries were thankfully exempt and could thus continue.
But on April 29th, 2011, the members in Kentucky were struck a blow as they were told that Medi-Share has not been found to be exempt from the Kentucky insurance code and thus must cease operation there. Those members must now pay more for less. One must wonder whom the legal system of Kentucky is trying to protect— certainly not the grateful members of Medi-Share who have chosen this plan voluntarily.
It will be interesting to see how the citizens of Kentucky respond. Will they heave a sigh of relief that they are now safe? Will they now be happy to participate in the more expensive insurance industry so that they can be "protected”? Or will they rise up to exert their Constitutional freedoms—including freedom from an over-bearing government that is bankrupting us all?
Dr. Alieta Eck, MD graduated from the Rutgers College of Pharmacy in NJ and the St. Louis School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. She studied Internal Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ and has been in private practice with her husband, Dr. John Eck, MD in Piscataway, NJ since 1988. She has been involved in health care reform since residency and is convinced that the government is a poor provider of medical care. She testified before the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress in 2004 about better ways to deliver health care in the United States. In 2003, she and her husband founded the Zarephath Health Center, a free clinic for the poor and uninsured that currently cares for 300-400 patients per month utilizing the donated services of volunteer physicians and nurses. Dr. Eck is a long time member of the Christian Medical Dental Association and in 2009 joined the board of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. In addition, she serves on the board of Christian Care Medi-Share, a faith based medical cost sharing Ministry. She is a member of Zarephath Christian Church and she and her husband have five children, one in medical school in NJ.