The Jesus-Backed Pension Plans Are Failing

You may have heard about Christian health insurance exchanges, where a group of Christians put some amount of money each month into a giant pot to take care of the group. If anyone gets sick, they get the money they need (along with prayers). The exchanges don’t cover things like abortions or drug rehab and there’s also a cap on what you can receive… so the insurance works, until it doesn’t. Even if it makes no sense to us, it’s easy to understand why some Christians would want to join up.

I didn’t realize that this sort of anti-government “we’ll do everything ourselves” mindset applied to pensions, too. That’s what some Catholic hospitals are doing, and the people who unwittingly put their future in the hands of their Catholic overlords are only now discovering that they’re royally screwed:

“Presently, the retirement plan’s trust is severely underfunded,” the CEO [of St. Mary's Hospital] wrote to employees in early 2011, blaming investment losses and the hospital’s decision not to put any money into one of its pension plans for more than a decade. “As a federally recognized church plan,” he continued, St. Mary’s had the right to do that — and there was no government pension insurance to fall back on.

The worst part is that, if the hospitals had agreed to follow federal law (and pay for insurance to cover their asses), the pensions would have been safeguarded. By taking advantage of a legal exemption and taking matters into their own hands, and not paying the insurance, administrators are putting their employees at risk, as they’re finding out now, when it’s too late to do much about it:

When we finally figured out that the pension was gone, I got the sense that I was violated, that somebody stole from me,” [respiratory therapist Lori-Ann] Ligon said. “It was almost like a Ponzi scheme. You get these statements saying you’re doing OK. And then it’s like it’s all a big joke.”

As if we needed another reason to despise Catholic hospitals. In addition to their inability to fully care for patients, they’re now showing off their irresponsible management, too — all in the name of Jesus.

(Image via Shutterstock — Thanks to Jon for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Holytape

    It’s okay. While they only have three loaves and a couple of fish as hard assets, the pension fund should be able to feed 4,000 or so pensioners, as long as they only need to eat 1/1000th of a loaf of bread. That’s how it works right?

  • C Peterson

    You’d think an omniscient benefactor would be a big help when it comes to planning successful long term investments…

  • Bdole

    I’m still stuck on why these Christian exchanges won’t cover drug rehab. Do they want people to STAY on drugs?
    As for the rest, it’s par for the course for the Catholic Church. They screw children, why not adults?

  • Watry

    Same reason they disagree with things like the HPV vaccine, or birth control, or anything but abstinence-only sex ed. The fact that rehab exists will encourage people to do drugs.

    If it didn’t have other uses, I’m sure some of them would be trying to restrict access to penicillin because it cures some STIs.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    You think God is good with money?

  • koseighty

    As a recovering fundy, I have many fundy friends and family. I’ve never heard the “it will just encourage bad behavior” argument for anything but birth control and sex ed.

    For abortion, drug rehab, HIV treatment, etc. it’s more a matter of wanting to punish people who do bad things. There’s a real “it’s god’s judgment” and “they deserve it” vibe.

    Somehow they missed the whole “judge not” and “do unto the least of these” parts of their book.

  • LesterBallard

    I didn’t see anything about how it’s all Obama’s fault.

  • koseighty

    The fact that the anti-christ is now president of the U.S. just auto-magically destroys good things. If the Mittster were prez, money would be multiplying all over christian pension accounts.

  • Terry Firma

    I hate to say it, but social security is backed by the government, and it is underfunded too. Ponzi scheme? Hell yeah.

  • Bdole

    But, drug rehab by its very nature represents “REPENTANCE!” Isn’t that what all those crazies with signs say.
    How in the world can they be against someone trying to stop doing something they think is wrong?

  • Bdole

    I’ve heard exactly this argument about a cure for AIDS. Infuriating and surprising as I did not expect that kind of awfulness to come out of the mouth of the kind person who said it.

  • beatonfam

    I would love to tell those “we’ll do it ourselves without anyone’s (read the government’s) help” folks to go F themselves and deny them the benefits they sought to destroy. But, that would potentially leaving people to go hungry. Lucky for them I believe it is immoral to allow my fellow human beings to go hungry.

  • beatonfam

    …until you realize that story only works because those who had some fish and bread shared with those who didn’t. D’oh.

  • beatonfam

    You don’t need rehab, you need to pray harder

  • koseighty

    In their little minds drug use is a failure of character. It must be overcome through christ. These people have no respect for people who are struggling. They withhold it until you’ve overcome your addiction through christ. Until then, you get no help or respect.

    (Again, talking about the fundies. There are some good churches out there that actively help those in need, support publicly funded rehab, etc.)

  • Sweetredtele

    I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer to what all those children with HIV/AIDS did to piss god off.

  • koseighty

    “I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer to what all those children with HIV/AIDS did to piss god off.”

    The sins of the fathers are visited on their children and their children’s children for (sometimes 4, sometimes 7, sometimes 7 times 70) generations — thems the rulez. And cuz they’re god’s rulez, they’z right and good and just.

  • phantomreader42
  • allein

    I went over to my parents’ (Methodist) church this morning to pick up the altar flowers that they had placed in honor of my birthday (my parents are out of town this weekend), and I got there a little before the service ended, so I was hanging out in the front lobby area. On the wall is a rack of pamphlets about various things…one was about AIDS and the other was about living with HIV (from the NJ Department of Health or something). They were pretty faded and I flipped through the AIDS booklet to see what was in it. There was stuff about using condoms and saying NO! to drugs, etc…but the copyright was from 1989. I doubt the HIV booklet was any more current. So good for them putting information out there, but I would hope they’d keep it a bit more up-to-date.

    (On a side note, I noticed that there were some boxes of books in their small library, 3 of which were beer cartons. And I thought the Methodists didn’t approve of drinking.)

  • Fentwin

    But, but….I thought Jesus saves?

    (Apologies, I guess I couldn’t resist the temptation :)

  • m6wg4bxw

    Matthew 6:34

  • David Bentley

    Well, I see the problem. They’re saving up Ukrainian coins that don’t say “In God We Trust”.

  • advancedatheist

    Stop believing this ignorant propaganda from Ron Paul types. Social Security can more more run out of money or go bankrupt than the Pentagon.

  • RobMcCune

    When it comes to money… *puts on sunglasses* “in god we trust”, was a bad idea.


  • Motivational KOKO

    . . Oops . . . .

  • Susanna Sharp-Schwacke

    My kid brother, his sickly wife, and 5 kids are on one of those health care plan mentioned at the beginning of the article. I don’t get it.

  • Carpinions

    Turns out it takes a village…and a market economy backed by a government operating sufficient safeguards. But this is what idealism gains fools who refuse to listen and think reality will just swing their way if they say so and think enough good thoughts.

  • Paula M Smolik

    All insurance is a Ponzi scheme. If you dare to use too much, they raise your rates.

  • LesterBallard

    No, Romney belongs to a cult; he isn’t a true Christian.

  • islandbrewer

    It doesn’t need to be.

    If only there were some representative body of people, maybe elected by a constituency, who could make laws that regulate insurance companies and tell them what they can and can’t do. This entity would have to … what’s the word? … govern business interactions within a geographic region.

    Hmmmm, let me check libertarianism to see if they have anything that can reign in insurance rates.


  • TnkAgn

    It is currently underfunded. But Ponzi scheme? Hardly. Look up “Ponzi Scheme” and read carefully.

  • Stephen Mahi

    I’ve come to believe that a “true” Christian is simply one that hasn’t been caught yet.

  • Terry Firma

    Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum:

    “I said last week that liberals should get off their fainting couches and stop complaining every time someone reports that Social Security funding is in trouble. Unsurprisingly, not many liberals agreed with me — and I’m willing to give some ground on my defense of the “bankruptcy” formulation, which is probably suitable only for polemics. Still, the trust fund is running out of money. Social Security is heading toward insolvency. What else would you call a program that can only pay out 75% of its promised benefits?”

    I don’t think Mr. Drum is a “Ron Paul Type.”

    If the money put in by the original contributors to Social Security would only be preserved and allowed to grow through prudent investments, we wouldn’t be heading (ever quicker!) toward serious insolvency. Instead, Congress has greedily dipped into that money time and again, expecting newer generations of workers to make up the shortfall. Classic Ponzi, albeit in slo-mo.

    Now, the money won’t run out in my lifetime, but the underfunding is a fact; and as workers are now hit up for more social-security payments than they’ll ever get out in retirement, the 2-mph train wreck is unfolding right before our eyes.

    I will be only tangentially affected by the U.S. no longer being willing or able to make good (fully) on its fiscal responsibilities towards its citizens, but my kids will bear the full brunt of this scandal unless Congress somehow fixes the problem and begins acting like financially responsible adults.

  • koseighty

    “No, Romney belongs to a cult; he isn’t a true Christian.”

    Yes, but… apparently there was some kind of special dispensation allowing Rmoney to be god’s chosen candidate, just this once.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    The Holy Roman Catholic Church cannot be trusted with altar boys, and it can’t be trusted with your retirement pension.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Social Security is heading toward insolvency. What else would you call a
    program that can only pay out 75% of its promised benefits?”

    When is it projected to reach a state when it can only pay out 75%? What assumptions went into those projections? Since you seem journalistically inclined, I will leave the answers to those questions as an exercise for you.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    All insurance is a Ponzi scheme.

    Stop misusing the language. Read up on what a Ponzi scheme is. First of all, it is fraudulent. Dishonest promises are made. This is not the case in a typical insurance policy. In a Ponzi scheme, lies are told about where the payoff for early investors came from. To quote Wikipedia:

    Typically, extraordinary returns are promised on the investment[5] and vague verbal constructions such as “hedge futures trading”, “high-yield investment programs”, or “offshore investment” might be used. The promoter sells shares to investors by taking advantage of a lack of investor knowledge or competence, or using claims of a proprietary investment strategy which must be kept secret to ensure a competitive edge.

    None of this is the case for a typical insurance policy. Payoffs, which are based on actuarial statistical projections, should be clearly spelled out.

    Thank you so much for sharing your ignorance with the Internet, but we have better uses for our time.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Well played, clerk. Well played.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    You have to read that IN CONTEXT, sheesh.

    It’s clearly a reference to his RPG-playing days.

  • C.L. Honeycutt


    *furiously scribbles new word into brain*

  • C.L. Honeycutt


    …sorry, just having Bitter Lizard withdrawal.

  • Jacqui H

    Oh my goodness, they definitely play up the magic in the loaves and fishes story when they tell it to children (the only time I was in Sunday school… before they told my parents not to bring me back for asking too many questions…). I’m only realizing now that *that* is what the parable is about. Everyone actually shares and there is enough to have left overs!

  • Mick

    Real Christians don’t do drugs so the ruling is used to keep out the riff-raff.

  • JuneAbend

    Brings to mind the old joke: Do you know why fundies won’t f**k by an open window? If someone peeked in, they might think they were dancing !

  • Mick

    That’s what Christians preach to others – they don’t accept it for themselves.

  • Mick

    What has happened since 2011? Has the law been changed to protect the
    workers’ pension money? I’m guessing not now, not ever. There wouldn’t
    be a politician anywhere in America with the courage to cut down on the earning capacity of the church.

  • Spuddie

    That was meant to be ironic, right?

    Or as the Catholic Church should be saying,

    “Do not worry about the future, you don’t have one. We took it away being foolish with your money.”

  • Watry

    I really have heard the reasoning I mentioned from people, specifically about rehab (not to mention welfare, etc.), but I see no reason there can’t be multiple reasons. *shrug* With social stuff like this, I’m more interested in outcome than reasoning anyway.

  • wmdkitty

    Yeah, everybody else took 2d6 damage.

  • beatonfam

    Yeah, sharing. That Jesus dude was big on sharing–particularly of food and medicine.

  • Terry Firma
  • IDP

    There exists a form of Evangelical “Christian rehab” that relies on brainwashing, er…intensive Bible Study administered by people with no psychological/substance abuse training. In plain English, the cure of addiction is more Jesus. I don’t know if such places charge money for this “service” but I’ll bet they accept donations!

  • SluttyMary

    Jesus only saves at Wal-mart on double coupon day.

  • SluttyMary

    God told Michele Bachmann to run for president. I can only think he did it for the laughs.

  • chicago dyke, TOWAN

    he does. but Moses invests.

  • chicago dyke, TOWAN

    Mr. Drum is an idiot. i have met him and listened to his bullshit in person. he supported the iraq war, ffs.

    he’s your typical white male OC “liberal” who is only considered so by his neighbors the fascists.

    he does not speak for me, or any real liberal.

  • chicago dyke, TOWAN

    they were black.

  • risingsmitty

    Ugh. This hits a little close to home. My family is part of one of these joke christian insurance plans. The goofy part is, the company expects patients to do all the legwork. They have to apply for any forms of financial aid from the hospital (or the guv’ment. I still don’t get how they rationalize that), track all their bills and medical payments, and even negotiate with the hospital themselves. Apparently the company just provides the vaguest of networks…. which is mostly in place to be a prayer chain. Also whenever they finally do get around to accepting the paperwork for my medical condition, I’ll have to submit a followup which includes a letter from a pastor verifying that I live an adequately christiany lifestyle (teetotaling, nonsmoking, abstinent, etc. cause christianyest is healthiest cause god, donchaknow). So that’s fun. And also precludes any form of coming out to my parents as an atheist. I don’t think they’d drop me like I’m hot like the “insurance company” would if it knew, but they’d definitely pile the guilt on about getting medical care under false pretenses. I’m off to do more research on the ACA.

  • decathelite

    It’s not just that they are failing from a diminishing trust fund perspective, it’s that they fail at being Samaritans.

    NOWHERE IN THE STORY DOES THE INJURED TRAVELER BEAR THE EXPENSES OF HIS RECOVERY. They are COMPLETELY covered by the Samaritan, who goes the extra mile and basically says to the innkeeper, “if there are any extra costs associated with his recovery, I will pay you back”. Even as a non Christian, that part of the story that moves me.

    OTOH, The Samaritan insurance will only help those who pay into the system, AFTER the patient has already paid a deductible, AFTER the patient has paid the remainder of the bill (Samaritan does not pay the doctors, they reimburse the patient), and will not reimburse certain conditions they don’t feel like paying for. AND they are turning a small profit. They are hijack the good name of the Samaritan and poison the original intent of the parable.

  • Sven2547

    I hate the rampant overuse of “Ponzi scheme”. I’ve had so many conversations that go like this:
    “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme”
    “How so?”
    “It’s unsustainable.”
    “Okay, and?”
    “So it’s a Ponzi scheme.”
    “You think it’s a Ponzi scheme just because it’s supposedly unsustainable?”
    “Well, that’s what a Ponzi scheme is.”

    Ugh, no it’s not.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Social Security Is DOOMED a Samuelson Unit From Now

    As I’ve argued before, Social Security will most likely go bankrupt one Samuelson Unit from now. Given that the Samuelson Unit is always 30-38 years from the time of measurement, and requires the tanking of the U.S. economy for an unprecedented time scale, there is no Social Security Crisis.

    Hmmm, could the Republicans be deliberately tanking the U.S. economy in order to get rid of Social Security?

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Graph of the Samuelson unit

    (From 2007)
    Notice that the estimate every year has been that Social Security will be unable to meet its benefits 30-38 years out…for the last fourteen years.

  • Bob

    I’m confused…one article is discussing pensions…another is discussing health plans. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the City of Detroit, a non religious entity trying to eliminate some or all of it’s pension obligations? State government pension shortfalls are reaching $4.1 Trillion. And that is only for State Governments. Google: pension shortfall by state. There are many Atheists that are employed by State Governments…perhaps they are to blame for these pension shortfalls? I say that because pension shortfalls are not a Christian or Atheist or Religious creation. Also simply working for a religious company/corporation does not make one any better or worse at operating their business then anywhere else.

  • Martin

    Um, easy….if they covered drug rehab, you would have 25,000 “born again” drug users and/or their family members begging/applying for coverage for rehab services. Their plan didn’t come with an unlimited money supply and therefore can’t cover all unfortunate souls that need help.

    I’m curious as to why all the people that oppose Christian health exchanges don’t start-up and personally fund their own Drug Rehab, Abortion Services, Birth Control services. Teach them Christians a thing or two…oh wait, that costs money out of YOUR pockets…never mind…easier to throw stones at others.

  • decathelite

    Here is the difference: The Catholic hospital is a for profit entity, and is not bankrupt. In lean times, the hospital would first sacrifice employee pensions before ensuring its wealthier members took a loss. Due to the lack of oversight and deregulation of religious organizations, the employees have little recourse to ever see that money again.

    The City of Detroit went bankrupt, and pensions are assets that can go to the banks to settle debt. But pensions are hard fought for, especially by unions, and city employees will retain the vast majority of them because of that.

    I’m not saying atheists are incapable of being dicks, and some atheists may have played a role in bankrupting the city. But the narrative that needs to be told is: Christian businesses are just as greedy, if not greedier, than the nonreligious, all while trying to claim the moral high ground.

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    Do you think there are no “real Christians” with addiction problems that could benefit from help getting better?

    We do actually give money out of our own pockets for other people’s medical expenses. It’s called paying insurance premiums and taxes to fund Medicare and such. I am glad to help fund rehab programs and birth control. Only reason my tax dollars can’t be used for things like abortion coverage is because some Christians won’t let me do that.