This piece was written by Keegan Cheleden, the 2018 Duke Divinity School Intern for the NC Council of Churches.
The Trump Administration recently issued new rules regarding the length of short-term health insurance plans, temporary options available to individuals until they are able to enroll in the Affordable Care Act. Under the ACA, such plans were supposed to last three months. Now, they can last 364 days with a renewal option on the last day of the year for up to two more years. In short, the administration has made a transitory solution into a long term option. While the plans are less expensive, sometimes half the cost, they are cheaper for a reason: the plans offer little substantive health care coverage.
The least expensive short-term plans provide no mental health, substance abuse, or chronic pain coverage, and none of them provide prenatal or maternity coverage. In other words, less is not more in this scenario when you have a real medical need. That’s the reason these short-term plans were only meant to last three months, offering minimal coverage until an individual could enroll in an approved ACA plan.
The appeal for a cheaper health care plan is powerful for people who must make difficult financial decisions every month, like the immediacy of paying rent verses protecting themselves against a potential health care need. For someone with no chronic health issues, the bill to focus on will be the one that keeps a roof over your head. It is the immediate, known reality rather than the unforeseen future that gets the most attention.
However, that unforeseen future needs to be covered simply because it is, in fact, unforeseen. A person’s health insurance is not something that can be treated as an optional checklist because that person does not know what to check off for a given time period. While there are preventative measures a person can take, there is no foolproof way to predict whether or not a bone will break, an artery will clot, or a cell will mutate. So we pay for it, even if we do not have an immediate medical concern, because we may need it at any moment.
Through this process, we create a health economy that takes care of all of us. We pay into the same system even if we do not currently need its benefits and as we do, we keep costs down for the people who do need to use them. Then, should we need to use our benefits in the future, we too will find them at a more affordable rate. To go outside of this system dismantles it, and we both come out with insurance that does not help us cover much at all.
But we are not meant to be on our own when it comes to healing and health. In the Scriptures, the community plays a part in a person receiving healing, particularly from Jesus. A group of men carry a man who cannot move his body to every entrance of a house where Jesus is teaching and they cannot get through the crowd. Yet, they are so committed to the possibility of this man’s healing that they take him up to the roof and let him down through a hole (Luke 5:17-26). And while his healing is not immediate–Jesus speaks of the sin in the crowd before it–healing does come, even in the midst of a ruling authority that has no idea of its sin. But if this man had not been carried, he would not have been healed of his paralysis. Those men helped him get where he needed to go. They helped him get well, even if the process was engulfed in brokenness.
With that, we can agree that while the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, it keeps a piece of this commitment to one another alive in a way that these short-term plans do not it. So let us not abandon it, but work to improve it.