|By Nick Madigan, The Miami Herald|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"Because she was so young, she couldn't handle it," Ashlyn's mother,
The baby, now a year old, recovered from her illness, known as respiratory syncytial virus.The bill for her treatment at the
Such religious groups are exempt from the Affordable Care Act's mandate that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. Although as many as 30 million Americans will remain without health insurance by 2016, despite the best efforts of the ACA's proponents, all but about seven million of them will be spared having to join the new system because of exemptions created by the act itself, according to an analysis by the
The exempted religious organizations generally pool their members' money to pay the medical expenses of anyone in the group who gets sick, injured or becomes pregnant. Also exempted from the law are members of federally recognized religious sects who have religious objections to insurance or to such systems as
Most of the other 20 exemptions address circumstantial situations such as homelessness, eviction, foreclosure, bankruptcy, the death of a close family member or an experience with domestic violence. Members of Native American tribes are also free to not sign up for health insurance, as are those whose income is too low or who are serving a prison sentence.
The organization that
The ministry's medical director, Dr.
Of Medi-Share's 100,000 members nationwide -- a number that reflects an increase of about 30,000 since the ACA's open enrollment began last fall -- 7,700 are in
Joining such plans, Miller said, is often as much a philosophical decision as it is a financial one.
"People are looking to take care of themselves and each other," said Miller, who was the medical director of a hospice before she was hired by the
By immoral she meant abortion, Miller said, but not necessarily contraception, which she said some of Medi-Share's members probably support.
"The other piece of this is living a biblical lifestyle and a healthy lifestyle," Miller noted, referring to the fact that the ministry provides "health coaches" who contact members suffering from health problems such as obesity -- and attendant issues with high blood pressure and excessive cholesterol levels -- and "advise them on how to get healthier."
In practical terms, Medi-Share members contribute to each other's care by depositing an agreed-upon amount -- the Whitneys pay
Medi-Share negotiates with providers to obtain an average of 30 percent in discounts on medical bills incurred by its members. In the past 21 years, Miller said, the organization has "shared" about
The system is not open to just anyone. "You have to be a Christian,"
Before giving birth to her son, Sebastian, in 2011, Whitney had worked for six years as a fifth-grade teacher at a Christian school in
"I couldn't afford it," Whitney said. But a friend told her "good things" about the Medi-Share program, and she was able to join. Whitney said she "didn't really consider" signing up for a plan under the ACA's insurance marketplace.
"I felt like I didn't know enough about Obamacare," said Whitney, who is 33 and lives in
A fellow Medi-Share member,
"I didn't want all the hassles," said White, 63, a father of three who lives with his wife, Carol, in
A few years ago, after joining Medi-Share, White broke his left leg in what he called "a silly household accident." He wore a cast for three months, but his medical expenses were covered.
When he was first asked to pay
This story was produced in collaboration with
Exemptions from the Affordable Care Act
You are exempt from ACA coverage if you:
Are a member of a recognized healthcare sharing ministry or a religious sect with objections to insurance;
Are homeless or have suffered recent eviction, foreclosure, bankruptcy or a disaster that caused substantial damage to your property;
Recently experienced domestic violence or the death of a close relative;
Had medical expenses in the last year, for yourself or a family member, that you could not pay and which resulted in substantial debt or which were unexpected;
Received a shut-off notice from a utility company;
Are incarcerated or in
For other exemptions, go to: https://www.healthcare.gov/exemptions/
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