Health sharing ministries attracting Christians
By David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics) | January 28, 2016
Excerpted from "Cost and conscience – why more Christians are ditching health insurance for this alternative," CNA Daily News, January 24, 2016 - The youngest of James Lansberry’s nine children almost didn’t survive his birth. Born with no heartbeat, he was resuscitated and spent 11 days in the neo-natal intensive care unit. The medical bill was over $200,000.
Yet “every single dollar of those bills was paid,” Lansberry recalled, “and it was paid through gifts and notes and cards and bearing the burden from hundreds of different families across the country – people who I’ll never meet on earth, who took the time to not only bear the financial burden of my family, but I have cards and notes from 43 different states.”
Lansberry is the vice president of the Christian health-sharing group Samaritan Ministries, and has been a member since 1996. Instead of enrolling in private insurance or the public health exchanges, member families of health-sharing ministries pay a monthly premium that covers each other’s healthcare costs, and they can volunteer to pay even more for others’ needs.
Enrollment in health-sharing ministries is allowed under the Affordable Care Act, provided the ministries existed before the year 2000. Membership in the three largest health-sharing ministries – Samaritan Ministries International, Christian Care Ministry or “Medi-Share,” and Christian Healthcare Ministries – has risen significantly since 2013, jumping from around 190,000 members nationwide to over 311,000 at the end of 2014, according to the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List. The three ministries combined saw a total of $253 million in healthcare costs in 2015.
The author of the report on the ministries, Scott E. Daniels, credited their rising popularity in part to families’ desires to pay only for insurance coverage they need. There’s also a demand for alternative healthcare providers spurred by the healthcare law’s individual mandate and its “values,” he added.
The “values” of the Affordable Care Act are not just abortion coverage and contraception mandates, Daniels insisted at the Heritage Foundation panel, but a much broader “secular ideal of communal solidarity” that coerces everyone into buying insurance so there are no “free riders” in society. Health-sharing ministries are a response to these “values,” he added, because they do promote a community, but a “devoutly Christian” one of “bearing one another’s burdens” and “mutual aid,” without coverage that members would object to subsidizing like abortions and contraceptives.
CMDA CEO David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics): “I’m not an expert on any of these ministries, but I learned a good bit when one of them sent their Medical Directors to our media training in December. They are a good option for some people and are growing rapidly as new parts of the Affordable Care Act kick in and the cost of insurance sky rockets. They would be even more attractive if the government allowed participants to set up a Healthcare Savings Account as well.
“Each of these three plans is different in many ways: how they handle preexisting conditions, preventative care, maternity costs, deductibles, maximum out of pocket expenses, share levels, whether they require a preferred provider network and how your ‘share’ is disbursed. With Samaritan Ministries, plan members send their share directly to the person with the need. In other plans, the member’s share goes first to the organization and then it is distributed.
“Each group has its own qualifications, but each requires you affirm you are a Christian, attend church regularly, abstain from illegal drugs, tobacco and extramarital sex and pursue a biblical lifestyle. Many Christians have joined for the lower cost, but others do for the sense of Christian community or not to have their money fund things that violate their conscience.
“If you are a healthcare professional, you should know that members of these groups are responsible for their own bills and are likely to ask for any discounts you offer for paying cash, unless they are a member of Medi-Share which has negotiated rates with their preferred providers. Many groups have advocacy departments to help members negotiate appropriate rates with hospitals where the uninsured are often charged three to four times more than insurance, Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements rates.
“I can understand why the popularity of these Christian ministries continues to skyrocket. Here at CMDA, our insurance premiums went up 30 percent this year. We had to increase our maximum out-of-pocket expense and our deductibles to get it down to 15 percent. That put a greater financial burden on our staff. The greatest problem with healthcare is that it costs too much. With costs escalating again, real healthcare reform is more needed than ever.
“For more information on each plan:
- Samaritan Ministries - http://samaritanministries.org
- Christian Care Ministry "Medi-Share” - https://mychristiancare.org
- Christian Healthcare Ministries - www.chministries.org
- CMF Curo - http://www.cmfcuro.com/
There are also web pages that compare these ministries head-to-head, like this one that compares Samaritan Ministries and Christian Healthcare Ministries. Which sharing ministry works best for an individual is based on their own situation.”