Christian Health Plan Excludes Those with 'Sinful' Habits

Faith-based health plans marketed to evangelical Christians bar membership to those who smoke or drink more than in moderation, the Washington Post reported Oct. 25.

A half-dozen such “church plans” have about 120,000 members nationally. The largest is Medi-Share, which has about 60,000 members and says it caters to those who are opposed to “subsidizing high-risk, sinful lifestyles.”

Church plans cost about half the amount of standard health insurance, but there are some catches: members must be approved by their pastors as regular churchgoers, plans put limits on treatment (no coverage for abortions, sexually-transmitted disease, or most AIDS cases), and members must promise not to smoke, drink in excess, or engage in extramarital or homosexual sex. Violators can be expelled from the program.

Medi-Share officials say their program is not insurance but rather a voluntary arrangement among individuals who share similar beliefs. “There are no reserves and there is no guarantee a need will be paid,” said E. John Reinhold, chairman of Medi-Share.

But critics say that the programs are unlicensed health insurers. “These plans function just like health insurance, but they operate in a regulatory black hole,” said Mila Kofman of Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute. “There is no accountability, no oversight, and the people who participate have no protection.”

There have been few complaints about the plans, but that may be party because members of some plans can be expelled if they resort to the “secular courts” to resolve disputes.

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