This commentary was originally featured in Real Clear Health on November 6, 2017.
The failure of Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and provide much-needed relief for millions of Americans suffering under its onerous regulatory mandates has highlighted the need to consider alternative ways to provide low-cost, high-quality care.
To be clear, Congress should not walk away from efforts to repeal. Alongside that effort, however, Congress should also seek solutions outside the scope of the current debate. Instead of perpetuating the cartel-like federal health insurance scheme through taxpayer-funded insurance bailouts, Congress should look to free up the market by expanding access to health care sharing ministries.
Health care sharing ministries (HCSMs) are associations of like-minded individuals who come together and agree to share members’ health care costs. When one member of the association gets sick, the cost is distributed and shared across the membership. Unlike traditional insurance, the health care sharing ministry is not liable for the health care costs of its membership but instead serves as an intermediary between members to facilitate the sharing of health care costs. Costs within an HCSM can be significantly less expensive than the premiums paid out for traditional health insurance through Obamacare exchanges. In fact, there’s an explicit carve-out in Obamacare that protects these previously established entities from being subjected to Obamacare’s onerous insurance mandates and regulations. Thus, HCSMs provide an alternative solution for millions of Americans who have been subjected to high costs and narrowing provider networks.
According to a study by eHealth earlier this year, the average monthly premium for a family plan under Obamacare was $1,021—a jump of roughly twenty-three percent from 2016. In comparison, the average monthly premium for a family plan under Medi-Share, a well-known HCSM, was no higher than $723. With premiums expected to soar once again in 2018 due to the continued existence of federal insurance regulations, HCSM’s are likely to grow in their appeal as a key fallback option.
Aside from potentially cheaper monthly premiums, sharing ministries promote healthy personal habits and foster accountability between the member and his or her medical provider. This turns members into more responsible and knowledgeable consumers of healthcare, which is critical for removing the cost blindfold that leads to an overconsumption of care and higher costs in the traditional framework.
If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because these entities function similar to a high-risk pool. Membership, however, is often contingent upon sharing the values and beliefs of the organization. This usually means that members must be practicing Christians.
It’s important to note that the sharing ministry model is ripe for expansion and Congress should consider removing the current restraints that prevent new sharing associations from being created. Currently, few of these organizations operate out from under the grasp of Obamacare’s one-size-fits-all federal insurance regime. The carve-out only extends to sharing ministries created before 1999. Congress should move to immediately modify that provision so that new sharing associations—Christian, non-Christian, non-religious, etc.—can open up and provide Americans with alternative pathways to affordable, high-quality care, and create a harmony of interests.
For the past seven years, Americans have been promised a full repeal of Obamacare. For most of this year, they’ve been subjected to excuses by Congress for why they cannot get it done. Expanding the sharing ministry provision within the law could help reduce the regulatory burden being imposed upon on individuals and families all over the nation—and capitalize on an opportunity to create a safety valve for millions of people while also laying the groundwork for a future free market in health insurance.
In an environment where Congress seems more interested in propping up traditional insurance monopolies through taxpayer-funded subsidies and maintaining much of Obamacare’s regulatory structure, the least they could do is provide their constituents with a pathway to freedom should they so choose.