Why This Mennonite Doesn’t Have Health Insurance

The phone rang, and “UPMC” popped up on the caller ID. Children’s Hospital. I picked up, expecting to hear a familiar voice, but the man on the line was a stranger.

“My name is Bruce. I’m a social worker with Children’s. Dr. Thakkar asked me to call because she’s worried about you. You’re considering brain surgery for your daughter, correct?”

“Yes, we are.”

“Since you don’t have health insurance, Dr. Thakkar is concerned you will bankrupt yourselves trying to provide care for Tarica.” He paused. Papers shuffled. “Your daughter qualifies for a government program that covers the medical care of uninsured children with disabilities. I’d like to send you the program information so you can look it over. I know you’re Mennonites and you have chosen to not have health insurance, but brain surgery is expensive.”

Finally, someone who was talking money. “How expensive?” I asked. “No one seems to know how much money is involved.”

“I don’t know,” Bruce said. “I can only guess. Maybe a quarter of a million?”

It’s a dreadful thing to put a price tag on your child’s future.

I asked, “How much of her medical care would this program cover?”

“All of it.”

It’s even more dreadful when your principles collide with your child’s future, and you realize you might attain one at the expense of the other.

The Amish and conservative Mennonites have traditionally refused to insure themselves or to accept government aid. Most of us would admit there is nothing morally wrong with either of them. Many of us are protected from having to make a decision on it because tradition has already done it for us. Because of this, I had spent little time thinking about insurance.

Until now.

Why do we avoid insurance? Just because it’s our tradition? Or do Biblical principles stand behind our choice? Traditions change, perhaps slowly, but they do change; Biblical principles do not. If nothing but tradition stood between our daughter and the best care possible, I was willing to buck it. Oh, the things a Mennonite mother will do for her children.

I did some studying and thinking, and I arrived at three conclusions. These conclusions apply to me, in our situation. I am not applying them to anyone else or judging anyone for making different choices.

1. When I am not insured against disaster, I depend more fully on God.

Isaiah 31:1 says, “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord!”

We choose to trust the Lord instead of the horses of Blue Shield and the chariots of State Farm. Trusting God feels scarier than making a monthly payment. It feels like we’re doing nothing, but it is actually the most we can do. God is more powerful (and more trustworthy) than the insurance companies.

Allstate, a large insurer in the United States, has had an advertising slogan since 1950: You’re In Good Hands with Allstate. That may be—I’m not here to debate the particulars of insurance companies—but I’d rather be in His Hands than Allstate’s.

2. When I am not insured, I depend on my brotherhood, the church, for help during a disaster or financial difficulty.

When a member has large medical bills, our church, both our congregation and the larger conference of 20+ congregations, collects free-will offerings to cover what the individual cannot pay. We contribute to these frequent offerings whenever we can, because this is what it means to be a brotherhood.

This practice cultivates dependence within the brotherhood and encourages us to practically show our love for each other. A large part of my trust in God involves trusting that He will provide for me through my brothers and sisters in Christ.

3. When I trust God to care for me in a particular area, I open an avenue for His grace to enter my life.

If we had insurance, do you think we would have needed God to provide for us through a stranger, a friend, and unexpected visitors? Perhaps He might have done so regardless, but we would not have needed it so badly nor been so thankful, had we been insured.

This is not to suggest that God’s people never suffer. Their houses burn down; their children die; their bodies succumb to cancer; their vehicles go out of control on black ice. We live in a sin-cursed world where bad things happen, no matter if someone is in Allstate’s hands or His. But those who trust God (with or without insurance) emerge from suffering as stronger and better people—because of His grace.

After my conversation with Bruce, Linford and I talked about what to do. Linford discussed it with our deacon. We talked it over some more. Finally, I called Bruce back and said he could send us the paperwork. We weren’t, however, promising anything. We just wanted to see the information.

“We are part of a program that is available to Mennonites in our area,” I told Bruce, “and through that program we can get steep self-pay discounts on our medical bills if we pay within thirty days. Our church can and will help us to pay our bills. We are not facing this alone.”

There was another issue involved, and I brought it up to Bruce: “The federal government recognizes the Mennonite practice of taking care of each other instead of having insurance. We have been granted exemptions from the Affordable Care Act. But how consistent is it to refuse with one hand and take with the other? That’s what we’d be doing if we apply for this disability program.”

When the documents arrived, we read over them. Linford asked me to do some research and report my findings to him. We then made our decision.

We would not apply to the government for financial assistance.

We may appear foolish, stubborn, and blind, but we have Better Hands to hold us.

The premiums are high—He requires me to love Him and my fellowmen—but His was the greater cost.

If I surrender to Him, He will never deny my claim.

Why the “J” Is Important

If it is a small world—and we often say it is—then the Mennonite world is even smaller.

A theory called six degrees of separation proposes that a person could be connected to anyone in the world through no more than five people. If this theory is correct, then I know everybody in the world through the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend.

Mennonites, on the other hand, have about two degrees of separation. Most of us can find a relative or an old Bible school friend among the acquaintances of any Mennonite stranger we meet. In fact, there’s a good chance we’ll discover that we ourselves are related, if we talk long enough. Even I, with a shot of non-Mennonite Scotch-Irish simmering in my veins, can make connections.

But I never met a lot of Mennonites named Stephanie, and when I married a Leinbach—not one of the common Mennonite surnames, like Zimmerman, Weaver, or Martin—I considered my chances of being the only Mennonite Stephanie Leinbach were fairly high.

I held onto that illusion for three weeks of newly wedded bliss, and then I met Stephanie Leinbach. She was from Colorado and married to my husband’s third cousin. So much for being one-of-a-kind. But all those Esther Martins had survived meeting themselves twenty times over, and I managed to recover from my disappointment.

The Other Stephanie Leinbach and I lost track of each other for nearly six years, until I wrote my miscarriage book. I hadn’t forgotten her; on the book, I had included my middle initial with my name because of her. Our name is uncommon enough that most people wouldn’t consider there were two of us running around. A middle initial wasn’t much, but it might help.

Shortly after the book was published, I received an email from the Other Stephanie Leinbach, and we began corresponding. I learned she had five little girls, two of them twins. They now lived in Indiana, closer to family. You know, the usual facts people swap when getting acquainted.

And then she asked me for my daughters’ birth dates. Her twins, Julie and Genevie, had turned four on March 29. Her Erika would be two in July. How close were they in age to my girls? And did we pronounce Tarica like Erika?

I about fell off my chair. Jenica had turned four on March 29!

What were the chances of two Stephanie Leinbachs having three girls on the same day, with names that sounded like we planned it? And we had an Erika and Tarica (pronounced nearly the same) a few months apart.

It was coincidence, nothing but coincidence, but it still gave me goosebumps. Before you ask, no, we are not twins separated at birth. Of that I’m certain. We are far too different for that.

The Other Stephanie Leinbach is why I use my middle initial. It looks pretentious, but in our small Mennonite world, with only two degrees of separation, we are too easily confused. Since she has more friends than I do and is more widely known, she gets most of the credit for the stuff I’ve had published, despite the J. And now that she’s recently stuck her toe into the publishing waters, I expect even more confusion to come. Two Stephanie Leinbachs who write? How will they ever tell us apart?

It’s not that hard, especially in person. If you meet a Stephanie Leinbach and she is outgoing and telling many stories and inviting you over for supper, it’s not me.