No, this is not directly a post about the newly approved House bill that will provide health care to an additional 30 million Americans, as historical as this is…
I was intrigued by a recent NPR story that talks about how thousands of Christians use social capital to try to lower health care costs. Samaritan Ministries is a cooperative, run since 1994, where its 16,000 members do not technically have health insurance (how this approach escapes regulation) but members agree to pay each others’ health bills when they incur more than the member average.
Samaritan Ministries charges members $170 a year for administrative costs and then tells them monthly to whom to write a $120 check. Members take it on “faith” that their high medical bills will be paid by other members and often receive a handwritten note or prayer, expressing hope that they recover quickly.
Social capital is implicated in two ways: 1) studies have shown that people who are actively engaged in groups have better health than those who are not engaged so health care premiums or expenses should be lower among the actively religious; and 2) the social capital involved in the networks among these members should help each other stay healthy and recuperate more rapidly. I had often thought that health insurance companies should offer discounts for group memberships in the same way as they sometimes provide discounts for gym membership. [For more on the links between health and civic engagement, see Bowling Alone.] Samaritan Ministries requires group members to have a letter from a pastor attesting to their active membership.
The House health care overhaul enacted 3/21/10 exempts groups like Samaritan Ministries from the individual insurance mandate. Samaritan members are hoping that the Senate goes along with this House version.
The NPR story notes that this is not insurance. If costs of all members rise and the $120 monthly payment of each member is insufficient to cover these costs, Samaritan will need to raise monthly rates or members’ medical bills will go unpaid.
And the story notes that Samaritan won’t cover medical costs for an abortion or for treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases, in keeping with what they believe faith dictates.
The story didn’t note whether during this time of economic recession, it has been harder to get other co-op members to pay each others’ bills.