Health Care Sharing Ministries and Freedom

v-headshotHealth Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs) have become an increasingly frequent topic of conversation due to their exemption from the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA has made itself rather unaffordable this year with large penalties for not buying unaffordable insurance. Consequently, people have become interested in finding a more affordable solution. Shocking, I know.

Many pro-liberty activists have been discussing or asking about HCSMs with increasing frequency, including some who are not Christians or are even vocally anti-religion . There is some common ground between HCSMs and libertarian philosophy: HCSMs are a voluntary solution to an important social problem (health care cost burdens), and libertarians like voluntary solutions. However, all of the approved HCSMs are Christian organizations. The ‘big 3′ began between 1981 and 1994 and there are one or two more that appear to have approved ACA exemptions that started between 1998 and 2000.

Prior to ACA, the big three HCSMs had a small six-digit number of participants. Now, they are experiencing explosive growth. It appears that this sudden interest on the part of Christians and non-Christians alike in HCSMs is due to the ACA. The catalyst for this recent wave of action is escaping government tyranny, not intentionally pursuing a more Christian, ethical, (morally) good health care paradigm. In contrast, existing HCSMs began decades ago not due to the ACA, but to embrace Christian solutions to social problems based on doing what is right: loving one another, which includes bearing each others’ burdens (Galatians 6, etc.). While these newer, more organized implementations are only a few decades old, the concepts they’re based on are found in the Bible and have been practiced formally and informally for several thousand years.

Those who have been passionately committed to following Christ all this time have already established a system that is good, functional, and free (as in freedom; there is a monetary cost). The liberty movement could learn something here. But it would be easy to misinterpret that as a call to start a bunch of new freedom-y things to solve social problems with the hope that government will bestow upon us some carved out exceptions down the road when they ramp up some other form of tyranny. What I really mean is even more provocative – a correction to both Christians and libertarians.

First, according to some surveys, a large percentage of Americans are Christians, yet until ACA, there were only a small six-digit number of HCSM participants. This shows us that the overwhelming majority of Christians followed the government-established systems without much opposition, thereby abdicating our responsibility to do what we’re called to do directly (bear each others’ burdens). I reluctantly admit I was among that large majority until several years ago. Though it wasn’t ACA that drove me to join a HCSM, it was another problem with government. Shame on me, too, for not making better choices sooner.

Christians would be wise to learn from this oversight. A faithful few Christians have become a blessing for the rest of us who were asleep at the wheel. This should encourage us to join their faithfulness, and reevaluate to see if there are other areas in which we could improve.

Second, the liberty community’s stereotypical rejection of Christianity is foolish. Obviously, not all libertarians reject Christianity. Some libertarians (like myself) are libertarians because they’re Christians first and foremost, not the other way around. Those who do reject Christianity, often assert that Christianity is anti-freedom.

The example laid out above should put a damper on this line of reasoning. Non-Christian libertarians have not created any such successful, long-standing, freedom-oriented solution to health care burdens. Christians have. And Christians have done it not because freedom is their highest priority, but because passionately following Christ is their highest priority. This example shows one way in which freedom is the clear result of following Christ.

Passionate followers of Christ founded and participated HCSMs, which have now captured the attention of many people, including non-Christians. If anything, libertarians can learn this: follow Christ and there you will find freedom (see 2 Cor 3:17, and many others). Do it well, and your service first to Christ, and then to your brothers and sisters, may someday serve as a shining example of freedom for the rest of the world to see.

I give my sincere thanks to those who led the way by creating and participating in HCSMs for all these years. I’m sorry it took me so long to catch on, but I’m glad to have found you several years ago. It’s a joy sharing your burdens.

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One Response to Health Care Sharing Ministries and Freedom

  1. Mike Vine says:

    “Non-Christian libertarians have not created any such successful, long-standing, freedom-oriented solution to health care burdens.”

    Health insurance companies were that market-based solution until they were effectively regulated into federal bureaus.

    Absent govt intervention, actuarial insurance is a more efficient model than cost-sharing. Even given the slow-motion insurance market collapse, my research shows that the HCSMs are still almost neck-and-neck with insurers in terms of cost vs. benefits.

    One can certainly be a consistent libertarian and a Christian. But many (most?) libertarians have an underlying philosophy that is at odds with Jesus of Nazareth’s self-sacrificial teachings.

    Self-sacrifice can do well for community-forming and meme-propagating, but it can also cause people to choose less efficient (for their own ends) solutions in the name of being a good Christian.

    The newfound appeal of HCSMs is due to their special legal status. As you no doubt agree, if that exemption were extended to all cost-sharing services, pro-liberty non-Christians would form their own. In fact, that seems to be what Liberty HCSM is trying to do – though they have to formally be Christian in order to qualify for the exemption.

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