Faith and Healing in America

It’s a new year and lots of people are making health-related resolutions: eat more fruits and vegetables, consume less alcohol, exercise more, lose weight. But our biggest health problems are not about personal choices or bad habits. Our health is imperiled by a broken, unaffordable, and ineffective system. From health insurers to big pharma to shady doctors who care about more their private investments in medical technology than about your health, the American medical system is costly and often corrupt.

If you’re sick or injured, you’ll pay thousands more for nearly any procedure performed in America than you’ll pay for the same procedure elsewhere in the world. And it’s not like the additional expense is buying us better health. Life expectancy is falling. Infant mortality rates are rising. We have higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and lung ailments than almost any other advanced nation in the world.

Thanks to political grandstanding and basic greed, health insurance is unaffordable for many families. If you don’t get insurance through your employer—and many people don’t—you’ll pay significant monthly premiums for a high deductible plan that could still leave you bankrupt if you ever have to use it for something serious. Even if you do receive insurance through your employer, it’s increasingly costly.

This is not a health care plan.

So I suppose it’s no surprise that some people are resorting to prayer as their primary form of health care. It doesn’t work, but it’s free, or at least it used to be free. Some incredibly evil people are peddling Christian cost-sharing networks for health care. Basically, you give these people money and pray you never get sick, because they probably won’t be covering your health care costs. The practice of separating people from their money in the name of religion is as American as Black Friday, but this is a particularly egregious scam.

On one website for a popular cost-sharing plan, the purveyors are careful to say that what they offer isn’t insurance even though they use insurance-based language. The site promises affordable health care, access to a network of providers, and health incentive discounts. There are monthly premiums, called “shares,” and deductibles, referred to as your “household portion.” Members can also request prayer from other members at no additional cost, I presume.

The site is filled with testimonials from families who say they are happy with the coverage, though it’s worth noting that most also say they are “blessed with good health.” People who are not blessed with good health—like the kid with a brain tumor or the dad with cancer or the mom with the high-risk pregnancy—soon find they are also not blessed with good credit. Rather than pay the often astronomical medical bills that come with serious illness, these cost-sharing plans encourage members to negotiate with medical providers for debt forgiveness and to “trust God.” Unfortunately, God has not yet stepped in to save these people from medical bankruptcy.

Another plan instructs you to send your share directly to other members along with an “encouraging note.” You’re also asked to pray for the members. All of this is dandy, until your bills exceed about $250,000. After that, it’s just you and God against the billing agencies. Oh, and if you have a pre-existing condition, you’ll have to cover those costs on your own. Refusing to cover sick people: it’s the Christian thing to do.

Look, no one is forcing anyone to sign up for these bogus plans, but it’s easy to see why people enroll. It’s cheaper than legitimate health insurance and the people who run these networks make a lot of hazy, feel-good promises. They pray with you over the phone, which does sound nicer than your average interaction with any medical billing personnel. Even so, these plans are a scam. They are modern-day snake oil. They are group-think faith healing. If there’s an afterlife, the people running these programs will surely burn in hell. But you can’t pay medical bills with a promissory note of brimstone.

So go ahead and cut back on those carbs, give up smoking, swear off sugar, and save red meat for special occasions. Make all the resolutions you want, but what America needs is a health care revolution. We have created a system where con artists prosper and where desperate people throw good money away on a hope and a prayer. It’s not working for anyone. We need to get up off our knees and take to the streets (and the voting booth) to demand better.

Tiffany Quay Tyson
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Tiffany Quay Tyson