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Weekly Pulse: What would Jesus insure?

| April 21, 2010

Christian groups are trying to create a run around health care reform by setting up alternative, unregulated religious health care bill collectives—and movement conservatives are cheering them on.

Religious right-watcher Sarah Posner reports on so-called Christian health care-sharing ministries in the American Prospect. Health-sharing ministries (HCSM) bill themselves as godly alternatives to health insurance. HCSM are groups of Christians who promise to cover each other’s heath care costs. About a hundred thousand people nationwide belong to these collectives. The Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries and its army of lobbyists convinced Senate lawmakers to exempt HCSMs from health care reform’s individual mandate.

Obliterating patient privacy

According to Posner, anti-reform conservatives are talking up these groups because they see them as a way to undermine the individual mandate. But if you think HCSM are a convenient loophole to avoid paying for insurance, think again. Posner describes the criteria for joining Samaritan Ministries International (SMI), one of the largest HCSM:

“To join the HCSM, applicants must agree to a statement of faith that they are a ‘professing Christian, according to biblical principles’ set out in Romans 10:9-10 and John 3:3. They must agree to adhere to guidelines that include no sex outside of “traditional Biblical marriage,” no smoking or drugs, and mandatory church attendance.

SMI members pay their own health care costs out of pocket and seek reimbursement from the group. What about privacy? In order to get reimbursed, they have to publish their health care “needs” in a monthly newsletter and hope someone sends cash. Lifetime benefits are capped at $100,000. Members waive their right to sue for any reason. SMI won’t cover treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, addictions, or the pregnancies of single mothers.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that this free-for-all won’t end well. You can’t just start a quasi-health insurance scheme in your garden shed and expect it to work out. Real insurance companies are subject to oversight to make sure that they have enough money on hand to cover their claims. Who knows what HSCM are doing with people’s money? These outfits have all the disadvantages of private insurers and none of the benefits. Members are a single major illness away from bankruptcy.

Bartering for health care?

Speaking of wacky alternatives to health insurance, Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) main Republican challenger, Sue Lowden, insists that patients can pay for their health care via a barter system, as Rachel Slajda reports for TPMDC. Great! How many chickens for an appendectomy?

Medicare expansion doesn’t equal bankruptcy

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum debunks the latest right-wing myth about health care reform, that Medicare expansion will bankrupt the states. States pay part of the cost of Medicare, so it’s true that any expansion of the program will cost the states some money. However, the talking point is that the expansion will push state budgets to the breaking point. That’s false.

Drum explains that the health care reform bill exempts states from the extra cost until 2016. Even after that, the costs to the states will be minimal:

“[Health care reform] won’t cost states an extra dime through 2016, by which time our recession will presumably be over, and even after that states will only pay for a tiny fraction of the increased costs. As CBPP points out, states will pay about 4% of the total costs of Medicaid expansion over the next ten years. This represents an increase in overall state Medicaid spending of slightly over 1%.”

Abortion and ‘convenience’

Jessica Valenti of Feministing has been taking on manipulative, anti-choice ads in the New York City subway. These ads are sponsored by an anti-abortion group. They feature various distraught-looking models staring wistfully into space. The tagline is “Abortion Changes You.” The message is that if you have an abortion, you will be a guilt-racked wreck for the rest of your life. Some feminist with a wry sense of humor and a little glue pasted in another sentence on the ad (pictured above): “Now I can go to college and fulfill my dreams.”

Anti-choice blogger Lori Ziganto was scandalized by the anonymous culture jammer’s message. She sneered at the idea that women’s lives and hopes actually matter: “Want to go to college, but there is a pesky baby growing inside of you? Abort! A life is far less important than your co-ed fun and career plans, right?”

Valenti’s response: “It isn’t that anti-choicers don’t understand why women get abortions – it’s that they care so little about women’s lives that any reason given to obtain an abortion is seen as “convenient.” Some things that are convenient: Providing for your existing children. Going to college. Having enough money to eat, pay rent, keep the electricity on. Not dying.”

HSCMs and the subway ads are part of an enormous rift in contemporary politics: Opponents of health care reform say that they’re defending freedom, but in reality, they’re advocating control.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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