Amish avoid health insurance mandate, pay each other's bills

By: Joe Nelson Email
By: Joe Nelson Email

AUGUSTA, Wis. (WEAU) - With many uninsured still struggling with a broken website, one community is avoiding the mess, with help from their neighbors.

Millions are looking into the Affordable Care Act, but problems with the government's healthcare site, had the president suggesting applications over the phone or through the mail.

But an Eau Claire County population is happily uninsured and isn't at risk for penalties.

Court battles decades ago, awarded the Amish exemptions from government programs, and when it's time to pay for care, cash from church offerings and quilt sales foot the bill, county health care workers said.

Although they live with no cars, electricity or running water, the Amish of Augusta still need medical care.

“They eat fairly well, they get plenty of exercise, they don't drink or smoke, so as long as they don't get kicked in the head by a horse, they live forever,” Dr. Mark Gideonsen with Augusta Family Medicine said.

When they need it, the Amish will get care through home visits, or by riding their buggies into town to be treated for illness or injuries, he said.

Registered nurse Tammy Raeder with the Eau Claire City County Health Department said she's been treating Amish patients for 22 years.

“In general, they're very willing to help anyone in need,” Raeder said.

She said their religion teaches not to rely on government, but each other, extending to paying healthcare bills while exempt from the Affordable Care Act.

“It's a free will offering. So if a family feels they can offer some money, they will. In other communities, sometimes if it's a huge hospital bill, they'll have a bake sale or make a quilt and sell the quilt and will raise money that way,” she said.

“They all will just pay cash. So they write checks for whatever services you provide,” Gideonsen said.

“It's a nice system. If everybody worked together like that, pulled together and cared for those in need, it would probably be a better world.”

Raeder said despite a healthy lifestyle their beliefs can lead to sickness or even death.

“They're very much with the God's will and do not want a lot of intervention. I've had a few Amish people have cancer and die at home and did not want to do chemo or radiation and that is their choice as an adult.”

Gideonsen said they do get discounts from hospitals, but they still pay more than people with Medicare.

According to healthcare.gov, these groups could be exempt from the insurance requirement if:

•You’re uninsured for less than 3 months of the year
•The lowest-priced coverage available to you would cost more than 8% of your household income
•You don’t have to file a tax return because your income is too low (Learn about the filing limit.)
•You’re a member of a federally recognized tribe or eligible for services through an Indian Health Services provider
•You’re a member of a recognized health care sharing ministry
•You’re a member of a recognized religious sect with religious objections to insurance, including Social Security and Medicare
•You’re incarcerated, and not awaiting the disposition of charges against you
•You’re not lawfully present in the U.S.


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