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Faith-based health care alternatives growing in popularity

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Georgia Baptists who are dissatisfied with current health care directives have creative options that are gaining acceptance with the faith-based community.

Three ministries – Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM), Medi-Share, and Samaritan Ministries International – are providing alternative approaches that, while not insurance, satisfy guidelines established by the federal health care law (Affordable Health Care Act). All three, which were in existence prior to the Act, position themselves as a biblical, non-insurance approach to meeting health care needs as they arise among members.

They require members make healthy lifestyle choices in accordance with biblical principles.

CHM was established in 1981 while Medi-Share was founded in 1993 and Samaritan followed in 1994. The programs base their ministries on a New Testament admonition such as Galatians 6:2 (“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”) and Acts 2 and 4.

They are not the massive titans of the industry; rather than being the Goliaths they are more like the Davids. But they are making an impact with their niche audience who feel comfortable with an effective way of lowering their costs while praying for healing among those whose bills they are helping to pay.

It’s about sharing medical bills with others of similar Christian values, something many feel is being stripped from the traditional approach to health care coverage. The approaches also help individuals, whose coverage costs have increased under the Health Care Act, to receive insurance at greatly reduced cost.

The most common distinction is that these programs are not Christian insurance; rather, they are Christian health sharing organizations. They consider themselves as modern-day versions of what the Church started back in the Book of Acts. Members contribute a monthly share, based on which option they choose, and use it to pay other members’ eligible medical bills.

That general concept is appealing to more believers as they seek to lower health care costs while being true to biblical values.

The ministries have a special provision in the Affordable Health Care Act and their members are exempt from the requirement that all Americans purchase insurance or face penalties. Therefore they do not face any financial penalties.

Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM)
(800) 791-6225

CHM, based in Barberton, OH, is the oldest of the three and the original health care sharing ministry for Christians. As a Better Business Bureau A+ Accredited Charity, Christians meet each other’s medical bills. A 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, it maintains it has shared more than
$1 billion in medical bills in its 35 years of existence.

“We are not a health insurance company. Rather, we are a group of thousands of Christians across the United States and around the world who share each other’s burdens in the area of health care costs. We also pray for and encourage each other,” says President and CEO Howard S. Russell.

CHM traces its philosophy to the Book of Acts where Christ’s disciples – empowered by the Holy Spirit – emerged from the upper room to spread the Gospel. They followed through on Christ’s statement that the world would know they were His disciples by the way they loved each other.

“The first recorded deed of believers was to provide for other Christians’ needs,” Russell explains. “The plan had its foundation in what Jesus taught.

“Many believers sold their possessions, combined their resources, and provided for others so that all needs were met. Through the centuries Christians became known for the way they sacrificially gave to help others in need. When a burden became too great to bear, fellow Christians came together and provided for each other.

“Christian Healthcare Ministries accomplishes two things: we share medical needs for our members – all of whom are fellow Christians – and we encourage members to be good stewards by providing awareness of what things costs, how much they should cost, and how to make those numbers align,” Russell continued.

With health insurance, a third party pays medical bills. Therefore, people are often unaware of the high cost of medical care. In contrast, CHM members decide with their doctor what treatment they receive and negotiate costs.

“The Body of Christ provides for CHM members in the same manner as the early Church helped each other. The love that Jesus commanded we show for one another is demonstrated every day at CHM,” Russell added.

Members choose between three programs with different price points and levels of service; there is also an optional program for catastrophic medical bills exceeding $125,000 per illness. The ministry has worked with more than 40,000 providers nationwide but does not have a provider network from which members must choose.

“The Body of Christ provides for CHM members in the same manner as the early Church helped each other."
CHM President and CEO Howard S. Russell

Participating adults must be Christians living by biblical principles, including abstaining from the use of tobacco and the illegal use of drugs (I Cor. 6:19-20), following biblical teaching on the use of alcohol, and attending group worship regularly if health permits (Heb. 10:25). There are no restrictions based on age, weight, geographic location, or health history.

CHM has programs for pre-existing conditions and an enhanced program if members join at the Gold level. The ministry distinguishes between pre-existing conditions in “active” treatment and “maintenance” treatment. The complete pre-existing conditions policy is available on the CHM website at chministries.org.

“Our members experience the freedom of choosing their own health care provider, taking control of their health care costs and fulfilling the command of Galatians 6:2 through this eligible option under the national health care law,” the administrator concluded.

Medi-Share
(800) 772-5623

According to the Medi-Share website, the program is a modern-day version of what the church started back in the book of Acts.” Members contribute a monthly share, based on which option they choose, and it is used to pay other members’ eligible medical bills.

It differs from other healthcare sharing entities by allowing its members to choose any provider of their choice, or choosing within a network to receive additional savings.

Medi-Share states that its 162,000 members “lead biblical lifestyles and have chosen not to share in the cost of medical care resulting from unbiblical lifestyle choices, such as abortion or drug abuse. That makes for a healthier group of people to care for, and a lower cost for our members. It’s good stewardship.”

Since 1993, more than $1 billion in bills have been shared and discounted by fellow Christians. Families average saving about $300 per month through their plan, the site says. There are seven levels of sharing through this approach.

“As Christian face the confusion of open enrollment and choosing a healthcare option, we hope they will recognize that Medi-Share offers a proven solution,” said Tony Meggs, president and CEO of Christian Care Ministry which operates Medi-Share.

“We are pleased that so many chose this option last year, and we look forward to continuing to offer a program that supports Christian values, saves money and provides peace of mind.”

“As Christian face the confusion of open enrollment and choosing a healthcare option, we hope they will recognize that Medi-Share offers a proven solution.”
Christian Care Ministry President and CEO Tony Meggs

Here’s how Medi-Share works:

  • Experience a medical event;
  • For greater savings, select a network provider;
  • Show the Medi-Share ID card;
  • Provider notifies Medi-Share;
  • Provider sends bill to Medi-Share;
  • Medi-Share negotiates/discounts the bill amount;
  • Through a secure online portal, Christian Care Ministry (Medi-Share) publishes the bills eligible for sharing and coordinates the direct sharing of medical costs between members;
  • In adition to sharing medical bills, members also pray for and send notes of encouragement to each other.
  • Medi-Share transfers sharing funds directly between member accounts;
  • Medi-Share issues check to provider drawn on the member’s account.

In addition to the sharing in the medical bills, members also pray for and send notes of encouragement to each other.

Samaritan Ministries
(877) 764-2426

Samaritan Ministries of Peoria, IL, helps more than 50,000 households – about 165,000 people – from all 50 states and several foreign countries, actively sharing health care needs of more than $15 million each month. Typically less than 10% of the members have a need in a given month and are receiving shares.

As the others, it positions itself as “a biblical, non-insurance approach to health care needs.”

“Our members take on each other’s burdens by sending gifts directly to those with needs each month,” Samaritan spokesman Mike Miller told The Index.

With Samaritan, each member commits to sending a set “share” amount each month. The ministry publishes a monthly newsletter that reports the total shares and needs and includes an individualized Share Notice for each member household.

The Share Notice tells each household how to pray for a specific member with a need and what his/her address is. The shares are sent directly through the mail from one household to another, to the members with “needs.” Samaritan Ministries uses a database that randomly matches shares to needs, so that the sharing is coordinated and shares go to the appropriate members with needs.

Prominent Southern Baptist pastor Voddie Baucham, who serves at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, TX, lowers the burden of his health care costs by participating in the Samaritan Ministries plan.

Baucham’s first impression of using the approach “was terrifying,” he says through a testimonial on the entity’s website. But experiences removed those fears and now he’s pleased with his results and cost savings.

“We walk in and say we’re self-pay, and immediately they take 30, 40, 50 percent off the top. That’s just because all the markup that exists because of insurance and Medicare. These doctors are so happy to not have to deal with all that stuff, that they pass those savings on to you.”

Baucham, whose church is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said “I enjoy sitting down, writing my check to a family, feeling that I’m just partnering with them, partnering with that need, praying for them. It’s wonderful ….”

"These doctors are so happy to not have to deal with all that stuff, that they pass those savings on to you.”
Pastor Voddie Baucham of Grace Family Baptist Church, Spring, TX

Samaritan, like the other ministries, is built on the foundation that the local church should be the next “line of defense” to provide for the needs of its own members after a member has exhausted his or her own resources, Miller says. It finds many biblical references to justify that stance.

“When a need occurs that exceeds what God has provided, other members of the Body of Christ should show His love by using the resources God has given them to help in the same way they would want to be helped,” a spokeman said.

And that is how creative groups are thinking outside the box and returning to health care practices as envisioned by First Century believers.

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