People Turning to Faith-Based Nonprofits Over Obamacare

Friday, 06 Jun 2014 01:55 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Obamacare opponents are turning to faith-based nonprofits to pay their medical bills rather than sign up for insurance with coverage options they either don't need or are at odds with their religious principles.

"When all this came up with the ACA [Affordable Care Act], I just realized I didn't want to be a part of any of this," Susan Tucker, of Venice, Fla., told The Washington Post.

The 54-year-old has dropped the private health plan she had for more than 10 years and joined Christian Healthcare Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that makes it clear that it is not an insurance program, but an organization "through which Christians voluntarily share each other's medical bills."

Members of the group pool their money to pay for each others' medical needs and promise to follow traditional biblical values.

Tucker said she views Obamacare as the government interfering in her personal healthcare, and refuses to become involved in the federal program.

Christian Healthcare Ministries has been around since the 1980s, but after Obamacare was passed, it has grown to include more than 80,000 members.

The group's most popular plan, at $150 a month, covers medical bills up to $125,000 for a single illness or incident, and people with higher bills can join an additional "brother's keeper" program for less than $100 a year.

In addition to such Christian co-ops, membership-based primary care clinics and specialized policies that cover certain diseases, like cancer, are also popping up. Some of the options are permitted by the Obamacare law, but others are not, meaning people who sign up for them will likely be paying a fine come income-tax time.

Critics say such alternative-care programs carry several risks. The plans can refuse to cover pre-existing conditions, consumers aren't eligible for federal subsidies, and if their medical bills aren't paid, there often is no legal recourse.

"A lot of this stuff is truly just junk coverage," said Sabrina Corlette, project director at Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms, noting that consumers should be wary of alternative plans being marketed as a replacement for traditional coverage.

She said consumers should especially be wary of specialty or partial plans being marketed as traditional coverage.

But many people who sign up say the plans cost less since they don't include coverage for mental health or maternity, and allow customers to choose the doctors they want.

At least one of the alternative plans has already been outlawed the Obama administration. Fixed benefit plans that offer a predetermined amount for illnesses and injuries will not be allowed to serve as stand-alone policies after January 2015, but may still be used as additional coverage on top of standard health insurance.

However, the ACA allows people who enroll in some of the faith-based alternative care plans to be exempt from the law's penalty for not having insurance. Primary-care clinics that collect a monthly fee for access to doctors can also apply to be considered as acceptable coverage.

Many of the Christian health ministries have been around for years, and 28 states have passed laws excluding them from state insurance regulations.

"These ministries operate on a very high degree of trust," said Timothy S. Jost, a Washington and Lee University law professor and consumer advocate. "It's really important that people really believe in this and are committed to this. If you have a bunch of people sign up who are doing this only to [avoid the healthcare law], the whole thing can collapse."


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