Columnists > Voices

Elegant solution

Bearing one another's ­burdens is a radical healthcare plan

Issue: "Iraq: Terror without end," Oct. 2, 2004

I have decided to take a chance on Christians; I am forced to it. Never would have happened if I had more regular employment (not part-time and freelance) and a more regular life (not fatherless children). The issue would not have arisen.

There is a certain philosophical elegance to this, all the same. Trust among fellow believers is the ideal biblical normal. Paul is shocked that we wouldn't naturally have thought so from the first, going to the world system as we do for every little thing: "Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough . . . ?" he scolds the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6). "Are you incompetent . . . ?" "Does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?" The apostle is aghast that the presence of the Holy Spirit in men should be presumed to make so little difference, to have so little application to the sundry practical details of life.

That's about lawsuits, of course. What about that other practical worldly matter: pooled risk. Aka insurance. Are Christians any earthly good for that? Or have I gone off the deep end into Jim Jones cultism with this first premium payment to a Christian healthcare "ministry"?

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To be precise, the particular Christian collective I've joined calls it not a "payment" but a "share." I receive regular updates on fellow Christians across the country to whom my "share" is going, so I pray for them. Is all this just whitewash or a genuine perceptual shift, as in Acts 4:32: "no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common"? Or taking Galatians 6:2 quite literally: "Bear one another's burdens"?

You want small government? How about a company exempt from state and federal regulations? (Pennsylvania requires a scary disclaimer inserted along with the subscriber materials warning potential "sharers" that "this publication is not an insurance company nor . . . does not guarantee or promise that your medical bills will be published or assigned to others for payment. Whether anyone chooses to pay your medical bills will be totally voluntary.")

Brothers, it kills me to plunk down even the slightly more modest monthly premium (old semantic habits die hard) than I would with the behemoth providers, because my children and I-may God be praised-have very rarely darkened a doctor's door in these many years. (But "time and chance happen to them all," Ecclesiastes 9:11 reminds us.) I have opted, therefore, for a deductible so high it puts me up there on the psychological risk-taker's scale with lottery players and Evel Knievel; I have basically purchased catastrophic coverage.

On the other hand, one reason my contribution is kept within sane bounds is that, precisely because the government is not calling the tune, this medical sharing program (administered by a division of a large national evangelical association, and overseen by a board of elders from across the Christian community) is able to set its own guidelines and to exercise a selectivity that keeps outlays for services down: I cannot smoke, drink, be overweight, or carouse-all risky behaviors. (My AIDS treatment won't be covered if I contract the virus. Which works for me, since I am practically a Puritan.)

I am feeling very avant-garde in this regard, for in the vertigo of our national out-of-control health insurance costs (from 5 percent of the GDP back in the 1950s to 15 percent today), companies forced to think out of the box are suddenly interested in what we eat for breakfast and whether we take walks, and are exploring lifestyle incentives to control healthcare costs. This is where years of plying my kids with tofu and organic sprouted wheat bread pays off.

A letter I came across from the senior vice president of one insurance company sounds like a footnote to Paul's discourses on self-control (1 Corinthians 6:12-13, 20; 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 4:8): "We individually need to take responsibility for significant lifestyle changes to improve our health. When looking at the cause of healthcare cost increases perhaps it is time to stop pointing fingers and literally look in the mirror."

The fella talks like a Christian. So I figure, if secular insurance executives start sounding like Paul anyway, and the direction of health insurance is now the reviving of the Christian virtues of self-discipline and personal responsibility, I may as well go whole hog and start straightaway with a company already committed to that premise.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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