As U.S. struggles with health reform, the Amish go their own way

Sat Oct 5, 2013 5:28pm EDT
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By Daniel Kelley

GORDONVILLE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The debate over U.S. healthcare reform that has gripped the nation and led to a government shutdown is of small concern in rural Pennsylvania's Amish country for a very simple reason.

Along with eschewing cars and many other modern technologies, the descendants of 18th-Century German immigrants who practice the Amish and Old Order Mennonite religions, have effectively opted out of Obamacare, along with most federal safety net programs.

A little-known provision of the law with its roots in a 1950s battle over Social Security exempts these communities from the individual mandate, an element of the Affordable Care Act that requires most Americans to purchase health insurance in some form.

But it is not the idea of health insurance the Amish reject - the close-knit communities essentially insure themselves.

"We have our own health care," said a retired Amish carpenter, who like other Amish interviewed for this story, asked that his name not be used because of a traditional aversion to publicity and bringing attention to oneself.

"They (hospitals) give you a bill," he said. "If you can't pay it, your church will."

The Amish system is a little more complicated than that. Some 280,000 people live in Amish communities scattered through the United States, with the largest populations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, according to research by Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.

While practices vary by community, most Amish fund their health care through a system that merges church aid, benefit auctions and negotiated discounts with local hospitals - promising quick cash payment in exchange for lower rates.   Continued...

The federal government forms for applying for health coverage are seen at a rally held by supporters of the Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as "Obamacare", outside the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center in Jackson, Mississippi October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman