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‘Obamacare’ alternative: health-sharing ministries offered a way out
Typically, a hospital patient paying out of pocket for major surgery needs a long-term payment plan, so when Gary L. Edwards‘ friend paid off his $30,000 emergency hernia operation tab in about a month, it left hospital officials flabbergasted.
“My doctors are very impressed by it,” said Mr. Edwards, a 59-year-old from Falls Church who says Samaritan Ministries helped him pay for a biopsy and helped cover treatment for his wife, Susan, when she injured her back.
While most Americans next year will have to grapple with the intricacies of President Obama’s health law and the “individual mandate” requiring residents to have health insurance, Mr. Edwards and more than 160,000 others who use health-sharing ministries will be exempt.
They’re one of nine exemptions built into the health care law, covering everyone from illegal immigrants to prisoners; those who have religious conscience objections, such as the Amish; and health care sharing ministries members like Mr. Edwards.
Many of those exemptions were practical: Prisoners already get government-sponsored health care, for example.
But through long-standing pacts and persuasion on Capitol Hill, devout groups such as Samaritan Ministries and the Amish secured exemptions because they argued that they meet two of the founding principles behind Mr. Obama’s law — that if you like your health plan, you should be able to keep it, and that broader access to health insurance will reduce the financial toll that results when uninsured Americans use the emergency room as their go-to clinic.
Escaping the mandate
Political controversy has surrounded many aspects of “Obamacare” since its passage three years ago, but clamor over the individual mandate rang the loudest until the Supreme Court deemed it constitutional last June, saying it was a viable exercise of Congress‘ taxing authority.
Starting in early 2015, taxpayers will have to say on their returns for the previous year whether they were covered by insurance or, if not, whether they were exempt. For each nonexempt family member without coverage, “the taxpayer will owe a payment,” according to guidance from the Internal Revenue Service.
The penalty starts at $95 for low-income taxpayers in 2014, rising to $659 in 2016. Higher-income taxpayers who reject coverage will pay more — 1 percent of their income in 2014, rising to 2.5 percent in 2016.
People who are not legal residents of the U.S. are exempt from the mandate, although undocumented immigrants are not eligible for government benefits under the law either.
American Indians, many of whom obtain care through the government’s Indian Health Care system, also are exempt, although The Associated Press recently reported on concerns the law defines qualified Indians and their tribal affiliations too narrowly.
Other exemptions apply to those who do not earn enough to file a tax return, who will not be covered by Medicaid because their state chose not to expand the program under Mr. Obama’s law, and those who cannot afford even the cheapest qualified health plan.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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