- - Sunday, March 17, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Recently, I chaired a discussion at CPAC on the importance of choice in health care, and specifically health care coverage. My fellow panelists talked about government rule-making, Medicare waivers and the many problems that approaches like “Medicare for All” create — such as interposing Uncle Sam between physicians and patients. All important aspects of the health care puzzle — but nothing that hasn’t been turned over more than once in a wonky world of $5 words and inside the Beltway policy chatter.

What stood out was what one panelist, Larry Foster, talked about: The ideas behind a concept called “health sharing” and its growing popularity as an alternative to traditional insurance.

Mr. Foster, the CEO of Liberty HealthShare, is a minister and, not surprisingly, preaches more than lectures. It’s refreshing. More importantly, what he has to say is important. In a national conversation filled with discussions about “bending the curve,” health sharing is simply a different approach to paying for medical care. It’s not insurance, but a way to match members’ monthly contributions with medical needs within a “community.”

When’s the last time you heard a big insurance company talk about its “community?” Have you ever heard anyone talk about Obamacare in such warm and inclusive ways?

According to Mr. Foster, “Health sharing is a community of like-minded people who believe in the Biblical principle of neighbor helping neighbor and choose to bear one another’s burdens. It is open to people from all walks of life.”

Health sharing is a 21st century health care parable: Sharing is caring.

Per Mr. Foster, “The concept of health sharing must be part of the conversation about patient choice. To paraphrase what one industry expert said to me recently, ‘Sometimes the best insurance isn’t insurance at all. It’s allowing faith-based alternatives to provide what insurance can’t — community solutions.’”

Health sharing actually practices what Mr. Foster preaches. The numbers speak for themselves.

During his CPAC presentation, Mr. Foster shared that Liberty’s members often chose health sharing and specifically, Liberty HealthShare, because it’s a viable choice that addresses their high cost of health care. At Liberty, the average cost per month for a family is around $500. High quality. Very competitive pricing. But the defining difference is attaining a sense of health care community.

Members also tell me they chose health sharing because it is a community. The Liberty community cares, and it shows. Its team of nurses, provider and member advocates work with their members to address both immediate and long-term health care needs.

Health sharing (and Liberty, one the largest, is a good example) aggressively covers serious and life-threatening conditions but also encourages preventive care. Liberty, for example, actively supports weight loss and cholesterol-lowering programs, managing diabetes and smoking cessation. More than 1 million Americans are members of a health sharing community.

Yes, there is a religious piece to the health sharing conversation. Mr. Foster and team regularly promote pastoral staff to offer prayer and spiritual encouragement to those who want it — and they galvanize their members to help each other. The result is a health-conscious community that helps keep costs down for all members.

Health sharing is a uniquely American idea based on choice, freedom and access. Relative to broader choice in today’s health marketplace, where so many are being priced out of any sort of affordable health care, health sharing offers a valuable alternative to traditional insurance.

Americans, now more than ever, need a coverage lifeboat in the sea of insurance confusion — alternatives to traditional health coverage. Health sharing is one great option that, per Liberty’s Mr. Foster, “brings clarity and peace of mind.”

• Peter J. Pitts, a former FDA associate commissioner, is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

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