June 11, 2010
Organized Christian health-sharing arrangements, which first cropped up in the early 1980s, have become an alternative to traditional health insurance for an estimated 100,000 Americans. The groups range from small, community-based collectives to large, multistate organizations like Samaritan Ministries International and Medi-Share, which each month direct the flow of millions of dollars from individuals to fellow members with eligible health care expenses, says Time Magazine.
The bill sharing premise is based on biblical principles in verses like Hebrews 13:16: "Do not forget to do good and to share with others." However, there is also a significant financial appeal, says Time.
Consider the Lansberrys, a family of nine living in Peoria, Illinois:
- As Samaritan (health-sharing ministry) members, they 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.
What's the catch?
- For starters, many health ministries will turn down applicants if they are too obese; in some cases, they are accepted if they agree to work with a "health coach."
- If accepted, members must attend church regularly -- and have that attendance verified by a pastor -- and abstain from tobacco use in order to maintain their status.
- At Samaritan, members generally have to pay out of pocket for preventive care like wellness checkups for children and routine tests like 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 members of Medi-Share, that means a second bout with breast cancer will be deemed ineligible if it occurs within 15 years of the first.
- Unwed women's maternity care is covered only in rape cases.
Source: Amy Sullivan, "Keep the Faith: Christian Health-Sharing Plans," Time Magazine, June 7, 2010.
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