Faith-based alternative to health insurance offered

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s always been a duty and a joy for Christians to love and help one another.

After all, St. Paul commanded the Galatians: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

For some, bearing one another’s burdens means sharing health care costs with people they’ve never met, but whom they consider “brothers and sisters in Christ.”

It’s called health care sharing ministry, a faith-based alternative to health insurance.

This ministry, rooted in biblical principles, is relatively new. One of the largest is Samaritan Ministries International, founded in 1991 and launched in 1994.

The ministry, founded by evangelical Protestants, operates quite unlike traditional health insurance.

Members do not pay premiums to receive coverage. Rather, their medical needs are “published” each month in a newsletter that goes out to all members. With the newsletter are “individualized monthly share notices” assigning members to help pay for another member’s medical needs.

Members mail their monthly “share” directly to that person, along with a note of encouragement. Also, members are expected to pray for that person and others having needs as well.

Samaritan Ministries grew steadily and modestly since its founding, reaching the 10,000 household mark in 2004. It really began to take off, however, when President Barack Obama began his push for the Affordable Care Act, which was passed into law in 2010.

As concerns about the moral as well as practical aspects of the ACA arose, people began to look for alternatives.

“We’ve certainly seen growth,” said Anthony Hopp, director of membership development for Samaritan Ministries. “Between 2010 and 2013, we had relatively flat growth. When Congress [passed] the exemption to the Affordable Care Act that removed the uncertainty as to what would happen with health care sharing ministries, the result has been considerable growth.”

Today, Samaritan Ministries has slightly more than 60,000 member households in 50 states, meeting the needs of 198,000 individuals.

Increasingly, Catholics are becoming part of Samaritan Ministries, thanks to the addition of the Catholic nonprofit CMF-CURO, a member representative of Samaritan Ministries.

The Christ Medicus Foundation (the “CMF” part of the name) is a nonprofit founded in 1997.

“The Christ Medicus Foundation was started in the late 1990s by our executive director, Michael O’Dea, and David Wilson,” said Louis Brown, CMF-CURO director. “[O’Dea] really felt called by the Lord to [have] another voice for the church advancing and promoting a culture of life in health care.”

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act and its accompanying threats to religious liberty, Catholics began to wonder if they, too, could be part of a faith-based health care sharing ministry.

“People who join health care sharing ministries that meet certain criteria are exempt from the Affordable Care Act, but individuals have to join a ministry that existed as of Dec. 31, 1999,” said Brown.

Christ Medicus Foundation executives Wilson and O’Dea worked out a deal to partner with Samaritan Ministries International. Catholics could be members of SMI through CMF-CURO, and receive additional benefits as well. These benefits specific to CMF-CURO include a membership card, which is a Visa debit card to be used for paying for medical expenses.

“Our members have the option of receiving their [published needs] checks on their membership debit card,” said Brown. “It adds a lot of convenience. Instead of having to wait for your checks in the mail or having to write a check against your bank account, you’re able to use the debit card like any other debit card.”

CMF-CURO was announced in October 2014 and launched in January 2015.

There are certain requirements to join. Members must abstain from sinful practices (drug abuse, sexual immorality, regular use of tobacco and drunkenness) and be a professing Christian who attends church at least three times a month. A pastor or designated church leader must sign a letter attesting that the member meets the requirements.

According to Samaritan, memberships are not refused on the basis of a person’s health, although health conditions that exist before a person becomes a member may be limited or excluded.

The cost of the monthly share paid by members runs from $180 for one person up to $405 for a two-parent family of any size. Medical needs less than $300 are not “published,” but needs from $300 to $250,000 are “published.” Needs exceeding $250,000 can be shared if a member also joins Samaritan’s Save to Share program.

Today, CMF-CURO has 800 member households.

“It’s not just about sharing each other’s medical costs, but also working with Catholic medical providers and building community,” said Brown. “We want CMF-CURO members to build community and work to build a culture of life and pray in an authentic way as Catholics.”

For information about CMF-CURO

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