A Pro-Life Alternative to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

By Jim Fritz

Christian health care-sharing ministries have been around for more than two decades as a creative approach to handling the growing costs of medical care. The largest players include Medi-Share, Samaritan Ministries International and Christian Healthcare Ministries. They market themselves as alternatives to health insurance, though they themselves are not insurance companies but non profits.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a section that exempts members of health care- sharing ministries from purchasing insurance. The Amish, Mennonite, and Indian tribal communities are exempt from the penalty to be placed on Americans who fail to purchase health insurance by 2014. Christian health care-sharing ministries have grown in popularity and success ever since the Old Order Amish Church Fund began the modern era of burden-bearing during the 1960’s. They receive no funding or grants from government sources.

Medical costs are "shared," not pooled as they are with insurance companies. Also, members can choose to leave the plan whenever they wish. Members themselves vote on what medical procedures should be shared. Health care sharing simply means that a certain group of members share in one another's health care costs. Health care sharing offers Christians a way to carry one another's burdens by paying for one another's medical bills while offering prayers and encouragement as well.

Christian health care-sharing ministries, for the most part, do not turn people away, cancel their membership or raise their monthly financial “contributions” because of expensive illnesses. Most healthcare-sharing ministries require some sort of evaluation of individuals and families to ensure adherence to Christian values, and subsequently, health values such as non-smoking, excessive drinking, etc., before membership.

Participants in these ministries commit to a “statement of faith” and a monthly contribution, similar to a premium, based on their desired level of coverage. They are free to choose their own doctors. They then submit claims for qualifying medical needs.

In general, depending on which health care-sharing plan the member belongs to, members’ fees are either sent directly to another participating member who has a medical bill to pay or to a central office. These monthly fees can range anywhere from $50 to $500 per member. Members must also pay a yearly administrative fee. Medi-Share has the funds sent to a bank account, then distributed. Everything is done digitally, so members log on to see where their money is going. In the case of Samaritan Ministries, members receive a letter in the mail telling them to send a check to a specific member in need each month.

As non profits, Christian health care- sharing ministries aren't required to follow the same state and federal regulations as health insurance companies. They are largely unregulated, except by themselves. This means members cannot go to a state insurance commissioner with a complaint; rates aren't reviewed by an independent regulator, and there is no way to ensure they are following anti-discrimination laws. Unlike an insurance company, there is no obligation to pay, and funding is based upon the amount of money available, but the system has been shown to work well and cover all costs adequately. In examining the current health sharing plans in existence, it has been found they have a good history, and there has never been an issue with paying.

The Christian health care sharing plans currently in existence include about 40,000 – 50,000 people each, of all faiths, and are growing rapidly. Due to its structure, a health share plan generally ends up costing both the employer and the employee less than an insurance plan. It’s a more cost-effective measure for families. As an example a Samaritan Ministries family will pay just $320 a month in "shares," the ministry equivalent of premiums. At a time when the average monthly health-insurance cost for a family of four is slightly more than $1,500, the savings can be substantial. It will be no surprise that healthcare fees will go up substantially when ACA is implemented. The previously uninsured were not covered due to costs, however, now they will be covered, and the costs will increase for everyone. Also, the government will add a new “tax” to ensure a base amount available for emergencies.

Some members generally must pay out of pocket for preventive care like wellness checkups for children and routine tests such as mammograms. Other ministries pay only when a bill is more than $300 and only if it falls within guidelines voted on by the ministry's members. For example, an unwed woman's maternity care is covered only in rape cases. None of the ministries pay for abortion or contraceptives.

A new Catholic health care-sharing ministry, Immaculata Management Group, Inc. (IMC), will be overseeing a new health care share plan, called Solidarity HealthShare, which is expected to be functioning by January 1, 2013. They state they offer an alternative to the HHS mandate, however all of the other three non-Catholic groups are also an alternative to the HHS mandate.

IMC will also have a “statement of faith” broad enough to include members of other religions who wish to join. A unique advantage is that it will provide coverage of pre-existing conditions. Because the mandate will not apply to health sharing ministries that have existed since Dec 31, 1999, IMC is partnering with one of the three existing health sharing ministries already meeting this requirement in order to qualify for the complete exemption.

If you are interested in learning more about the health care-sharing ministries the following are the contact information:

Medi-Share: Website, www.medi-share.org; phone 866-606-7390

Samaritan Ministries International: Website, www.samaritanministries.org; Phone 888-268-4377

Christian Healthcare Ministries: Website, www.cbnews.org; Phone, 800-791-6225

Solidarity HealthShare: Website www.SolidarityHealthShare.com , but as of this date it is still under construction. Phone is 486-382-6328

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