By Alieta Eck, MD, Piscataway
“We have to pass the health care bill, so you can find out what’s in it,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It’s a good thing doctors don’t practice medicine that way. Imagine sending patients to major surgery and then checking to find out what is in their medical record!
Those intent on a government takeover of medicine missed one item that is found in the bill. Tucked in there, around page 327, is the provision that exempts members of the health care sharing ministries in existence before the year 2000 from the mandate to buy the federally qualified health insurance.
About 100,000 people are currently enrolled in such plans, one of which helps members pay $40 million in bills per year. They are Christian Care Medi-Share, Samaritan Ministries and Christian Healthcare Ministries.
The Eck family has enjoyed membership in such an organization since May 1997. Back then our story made the front page of our local paper, complete with photo of my husband John, our five children, and me, with the headline “NJ Family Abandons Private Insurance for Aid of Christian Health Plan.”
Two physicians completely abandoning health insurance was news. At that time, we went from paying $585 to $75 per month to secure very reliable help should we have a catastrophic health care event. Today, instead of $3,200 or so per month for health insurance here in NJ, our family share comes to $350.
The qualifications for membership are strict. Enrollees have to agree to avoid tobacco, illegal drugs, and excess alcohol use. They have to keep their body weight at an acceptable level and cannot expect to have help with any pre-existing conditions. Members must agree to live a Biblical lifestyle (no sex outside of marriage) and must attend church regularly. These rules actually eliminate 70% of disease and members are “equally yoked” with others who choose to follow a healthy lifestyle.
We are free to access whatever medical care we choose, and the members vote on what expenses they will share, up to $5 million for a family over their lifetimes. Members are responsible for their own wellness and routine care, such as checkups, immunizations, and screenings.
Since we joined, our savings have amounted to well over $100,000.
The mandate we follow lies in the Biblical passage of Galatians 6:2- “Bear ye one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” Yet the ensuing verse 5 tells us to “carry our own loads”—to accept personal responsibility.
In 1998 my husband and I were called before our state Department of Banking and Insurance to defend our promotion of this faith-based program. We were accused of “selling insurance without a license,” even though we received no commission. The outcome: the faith sharing group was not considered “insurance” and was thus exempt from government oversight.
In 2004, I testified before the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, explaining the reasons why insurance was so expensive in New Jersey, and telling of the success of the health-sharing ministry.
Our church does care about those with pre-existing conditions, or those who have succumbed to activities that contribute to their illnesses. We have set up the Acts 4 Project to help such people share bills and giving others with generous hearts the opportunity to donate. In addition, the Zarephath Health Center is a local clinic that helps the poor and uninsured get free medical care. Utilizing all volunteer physicians, nurses, and support staff, this clinic cheerfully provides care at one-tenth the cost of the federally qualified clinic in the next town.
The government cannot provide care; it can only mandate, restrict, coerce, punish, and control—causing insurance companies to raise rates and lower payments to physicians and hospitals. As the new rules drive insurance companies out of business, and government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid head for bankruptcy, sharing ministries will offer a beacon of hope—a literal escape route.
We hold out a glimmer of hope that Congress will tear down the wall that prevents other innovations from bringing affordable, freely chosen care to all Americans.
Dr. Alieta Eck, MD graduated from the Rutgers College of Pharmacy in NJ and the St. Louis School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. She studied Internal Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ and has been in private practice with her husband, Dr. John Eck, MD in Piscataway, NJ since 1988. She has been involved in health care reform since residency and is convinced that the government is a poor provider of medical care. She testified before the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress in 2004 about better ways to deliver health care in the United States. In 2003, she and her husband founded the Zarephath Health Center, a free clinic for the poor and uninsured that currently cares for 300-400 patients per month utilizing the donated services of volunteer physicians and nurses. Dr. Eck is a long time member of the Christian Medical Dental Association and in 2009 joined the board of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. In addition, she serves on the advisory board of Christian Care Medi-Share, a faith based medical cost sharing Ministry. She is a member of Zarephath Christian Church and she and her husband have five children, one in medical school in NJ.
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