Speed Reads


John Oliver creates his own health care sharing ministry to highlight their significant shortcomings

"Access to health care is a big problem in America, and one of the key reasons is that health insurance is often linked to employment," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "Why is that the case? Well, because we do it wrong." The end result is that millions of Americans have trouble finding health-care coverage, "so they might be intrigued" by ads for health-care sharing ministries, he said. "And if you haven't heard of them before, you may have come across one and not even realized it, because they have been growing fast in the U.S.," from 200,000 members a decade ago to a million now.

"The most important thing to know about health-care sharing ministries, or HCSMs, isn't just that they can be cheaper than health insurance — which they can — it's also that they're not health insurance," Oliver said. Instead, "generally, they are nonprofits where people who share religious beliefs — usually Christianity — agree to help cover each other's medical bills." And yes, "people actually looking out for each other does sound better than our current system, which is: get sick, have insurance decline coverage, and then hope Debra Messing retweets your GoFundMe," he said. But while "HCSMs are definitely an alternative" to traditional health insurance, "as you've probably guessed because you're learning about them on this show — and not What if John Oliver Was Somehow Less Angry, Less English, and Had Jack Ryan Money — there are also some significant drawbacks," like that you can be denied for care due to pre-existing conditions or even subjective morality reasons.

If you are a regular Last Week Tonight viewer, you may also not be surprised to learn that many HCSMs are aggressively marketed to conservatives, that there is a malign actor involved, that Oliver believes government regulation could improve the situation, and that — after setting up his own church (for tax purposes) in 2015 — he also got in this game.