"Amish Insurance"

Most people know that the Amish do not normally buy commercial health insurance. Major hospital bills and operations, beyond what a family can afford, are covered by an internal system the Amish have developed. In some cases, all-day auctions and bake sales might be held to help raise money for a very serious medical expense. On the other hand, commercial liability insurance is sometimes obtained. Here again, however, the Amish in Lancaster have also come up with their own Amish liability insurance plan, the details of which are not widely known…

A few years ago, I was visiting an Amish friend. For the purposes of this article, I’ll call him Sam. While we were talking, a horse and buggy pulled in the driveway. Soon there was a knock at the door. An Amishman entered and said a few words to Sam in the Pennsylvania German dialect, which I did not understand. It turned out that he was there to collect Sam’s share of “Amish liability insurance” for the year. In just a few seconds, Sam had fetched his checkbook and written out a check for the amount requested. The visitor thanked him and headed down the road to his next stop.

Sam later explained to me that membership in the plan is voluntary. Sam no longer had a horse and carriage, but he decided to stay in the plan and support the others. This might have been because he had a small shop often visited by non-Amish (“English”) customers. Sam was given a copy of a brief report on the liability payments for the previous year. There was a list of all the checks that had been written out to members in the plan. This included damages from accidents, etc. that might have involved “English” and Amish.

Sam said the Amish usually request estimates, often two, before the plan writes out a check to cover the liability the Amish member has incurred. The largest check written out between July 2000-July 2001 was for $34,000. In all over 150 checks were written, most for amounts under $7,000. Each paying member receives a list showing the check number, member name, town (all appeared to be in Pennsylvania), and the amount. The total for the year was over $445,000. With interest and expenses, the grand total was over $465,000. With over 5,100 members participating in the plan, each member’s share for a year was $92.

In a short note at the bottom, the committee in charge of the plan encouraged members to be “preventive,” driving their horses carefully and looking for any problem areas in their shops. They noted that as more Amish have contact with “English,” these kinds of things are on the increase, so prevention is very important, as well as getting reliable estimates on damages sought.

I talked a little to Sam about my insurance, and the propensity in my world to hire lawyers and sue. I told him my liability insurance was a good bit more than $92 a year. I also remembered a few years ago when I was visiting an Amish couple one December. They asked me for some help related to their involvement in a buggy vs. car accident. The car had passed them and then cut them off, and the buggy had scraped the car. They were required to fill out some papers and draw a diagram of what had happened. I assumed this was either for their or the other party’s insurance, perhaps to determine who was at fault. I helped them as best I could, and on my way out the door I was given a container of homemade Christmas cookies “to thank me for my help.”

Amish Country News Publisher's Message by Brad Igou (2005)


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