NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Health Care Sharing Ministries

April 28, 2011

When Jase and Jennie Stefanski needed to pay a midwife her $5,000 fee for delivering their child, the money came from an unlikely source: people who are members, like them, of a Christian nonprofit group called Samaritan Ministries.  In dribs and drabs, the checks arrived, most between $135 and $320, reports Kaiser Health News.

The Stefanskis don't have health insurance.  Instead, they belong to a "health care sharing ministry" whose members follow biblical teachings that they share each other's burdens -- in this case, their medical costs.

  • Each member pays a monthly fee that varies with family size: Single members generally pay $135, couples $270, single-parent families $200 and two-parent families $320.
  • Members pay the first $300 for any medical expense they incur; when they have billsabove that amount, they send them to the ministry's main offices.
  • The ministry keeps track of the needs, informing other members where to send their monthly check, and letting those who have made requests know what checks to expect.
  • If there's a shortfall one monthevery household seeking help gets a prorated portion of its needs covered, and the ministry asks members for voluntary contributions to make up the difference.
  • If the shortfall continues, members vote on raising the share amount.

Although the ministries say that they're not providing health insurance and are therefore exempt from state insurance regulations, states sometimes beg to differ.  Concerned that members may believe such ministries guarantee coverage of their medical bills, regulators have at times tried to shut them down.

The federal health care overhaul adopted by Congress last year recognizes ministries that share health care expenses as part of their religious practice.  The law exempts members of such ministries from the penalty that will be levied against individuals who don't purchase health insurance starting in 2014, a fact which all three of the major ministries highlight to varying degrees on their websites, says Kaiser.

Source: Michelle Andrews, "Some Church Groups Form Sharing Ministries to Cover Members' Medical Costs," Kaiser Health News, April 25, 2011.

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