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.

6 thoughts on “Why This Mennonite Doesn’t Have Health Insurance

  1. Stephanie,
    Thank you for sharing your findings and convictions on insurance. I wholeheartedly agree. God has shown himself real to us in this area when Taylor was in the children’s hospital three years ago. We had a large hospital bill of over a hundred thousand and are with a sharing program committed to sharing each other’s needs within the body of Christ. They worked with us to get discounts and pay a reasonable price for her care and through the whole process instead of just reducing the amount we owed they totally canceled our hospital bill. God has amazing ways of supplying our needs and goes above and beyond our expectations. He is worthy of our praise and our trust in Him. Blessings to you as you take the not so popular route and trust in our all sufficient- God. You are in our prayers.

    • This is so encouraging to me, Lorene. Thanks for testifying of God’s provision for you. God does take care of His children, and although He may not cancel our hospital bills, I believe He will supply our needs, somehow, someway. I know someone whose epilepsy surgery cost them only $5,000. I’m trying to look at the future with interest–just how is God going to do this anyway?–instead of worry.

  2. Stephanie, Your amazing ability to write has been a real blessing to me. You have captured so many of my emotions and actually found words for them!
    I appreciate your simple faith and trust in God as He continues to unfold His mysterious plan for your lives.
    I had to comment on this post. We were faced with a bill of over a hundred thousand and I thought we simply could not turn another expense in to our church medical aide and like you, we didn’t accept government aid.
    While we waited for the final outcome, I had this nagging worry and though I prayed about, it it was just in short desperate pleas. I kept telling myself I needed to go spend specific time in prayer making sure God really understood the desperate need.
    The hospital cancelled a large percent of our hospital bill. I’ll never forget that day and the precious realization that when taking care of a sick child robs you of prayer time, God understands even the quick unformed prayers sent heavenward.
    God is always good even when the bills are overwhelming and not cancelled!
    Your family is on my daily prayer list. Blessings…

    • Thank you, Donna. This story gave me goosebumps. Funny that you should mention those quick prayers. This morning on the way home from my school run, I told God it seems most of my praying is done in short, quick bursts said as I go through my day. I tried to console myself that this is what it means to pray without ceasing, but I do want to be more diligent in finding quiet time with God. And yes, He is always good, no matter what.

  3. I am going to offer another perspective. I trust God. I trust in the promises given to us by Jesus. For me, as a recent widow with a young child to support and not belonging to a church with provisions such as yours, being eligible for Medical Assistance WAS the answer to my prayer. When its usefulness has run its course, I know God will provide another way for us. In my opinion it does not make me any less trusting or faithful to accept the insurance.

    • Thank you, Kim, for your perspective. God has a unique journey for each of us, and I believe He finds ways for each of us to learn to trust Him. For us, in our admittedly sheltered and safe life, we are trusting Him to cover our medical bills, and in this way, we are learning lessons we might not have otherwise, because of the sheltered life our community provides. For you, God has a different journey, and it’s not comparable to ours at all. Please do not feel I’m questioning your trust in God. What I shared is specific to our experience, not meant as a general condemnation of any other form of assistance.

      May You feel the presence of the Almighty as you seek His face and trust His care,
      Stephanie

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