John Oliver’s fake church is now a ‘healthcare sharing ministry’ in Florida. Let him explain why.
In 2015, John Oliver, patron saint of Explaining Boring Complicated Stuff That Matters A Lot, drew attention to the tax-exempt status of money-grabbing televangelists by starting his own money-grabbing church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. The church was shut down after a few weeks, and all “tithes” were donated to Doctors Without Borders. But on Sunday night, Our Lady rose again, albeit in a new and even more obscure form.
Oliver’s team created a legally recognized “healthcare sharing ministry” in Florida as a spinoff from the church, dubbing it Our Lady of Perpetual Health, and even inviting SNL alumna Rachel Dratch aka “Wanda Jo” to help promote it. If you live in Florida, you can pay $1.99 to join, and receive a “first aid kit” (three Band-Aids in a plastic case) in return.
What is a health care sharing ministry (HCBM), then? As Oliver explains, it’s a long-standing way small communities, usually bound together by a shared faith, have pooled their money to help members pay for healthcare costs. But due to a loophole in the Affordable Care Act allowing HCBM members to avoid a tax penalty for not having insurance, the HCBM has been increasing in popularity since the ACA was passed and infiltrated by for-profit companies — and is now being marketed, especially to conservative audiences, as “freedom from insurance”. Because, as Oliver makes clear, this is definitely not insurance. Not only are HCBMs not subject to the same regulations as actual insurers, but many also include clauses to exclude from coverage any illness connected to “lifestyle choices”, like drinking alcohol, having extramarital sex, or simply not living a “Christian” lifestyle.
So if you thought that there might be a limit to the number of ways the American healthcare system can be manipulated for profit and power, here’s another reason why you’re wrong. Grifting, it seems, is perpetual.