When Luke Daugherty visits the doctor, he doesn’t show an insurance card.
It seems unusual in an age where health care and insurance are practically synonymous; and especially now with a federal mandate in place that requires most people to have health insurance. Daugherty and his family instead accesses health care needs through a health care sharing ministry.
The Daughertys, members of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in south St. Louis, joined a health care sharing ministry about a decade ago. Luke and his wife, Ann, who were just starting a family, had an insurance plan but they weren’t using it for much beyond routine health care visits. They also were dissatisfied with the increasing costs of having a traditional insurance plan.
“We felt there were a lot of problems with the way insurance functions, and wanted to look at alternative options,” Luke Daugherty said. “We felt there was a lot of injustice in the system and wanted to see what else was out there.”
The Daughertys signed up with Samaritan Ministries, one of several major Christian-based health care sharing ministries in the United States. The program, which was founded in 1994, is structured differently than an insurance plan.
“Health care sharing is simply members who are voluntarily sharing one another’s medical needs, person to person, household to household,” said Anthony Hopp, Samaritan Ministries’ vice president for external relations. “It’s Christians living out what they believe and being able to actively live out their faith.”
Members send monthly payments, called shares, directly to other members, based on the level of membership purchased. Members also are invited to offer prayers and send notes of encouragement to the person to whom they’re sending their shares.
Members approach health care providers as a self-paying patient. Hopp said that Samaritan Ministries is seeing an increase in health care providers who appreciate this approach because they aren’t tangled in the administrative costs of managed care. In cases where a provider is asking for payment in advance, Samaritan Ministries works with the member to find a solution in order to get the needed health care.
When a member has a medical need, that person submits billing information from the health care provider(s) to Samaritan to determine if it is shareable; Samaritan then directs the appropriate number of members to send their monthly shares directly to that member in need. Luke Daugherty noted that was his experience when he and Ann had their three children and did not have any out-of-pocket costs.
“Never once have we had our needs go unmet,” said Daugherty. “It’s been a great experience for us.”
Connecting directly with other members also was something that was attractive to Daugherty. “Rather than sending premiums to an insurance company, we get directly to sharing with one another’s needs,” he said. “It’s a very tangible expression of being the Church and caring for one another. We are meeting each other’s needs and also praying for them.”
Health care sharing ministries take different approaches to pre-existing needs. In the case of Samaritan Ministries, pre-existing conditions are not shareable; however the organization will inform other members if there is another member with a medical need outside of its guidelines and invite them to send what is essentially a freewill offering.
“We tell them, here is a medical need that falls outside of the guidelines, so if you able to send above and beyond your regular monthly share please consider doing so,” Hopp said. “Generally speaking they’re very generous. With non pre-existing conditions, those are shared at close to 100 percent depending on your level of membership. With pre-existing needs, our members don’t have that expectation.”
Samaritan Ministries, like other Christian health care sharing ministries, takes a pro-life position in the types of procedures and treatments that are shareable. It does not share for abortions or elective sterilization, such as tubal ligation or vasectomy, although procedures that result in sterilization are shareable if the reason for them is to treat a medical condition (such as a hysterectomy, for example.) Contraceptives also are not shareable, particularly those that act as an abortifacient, Samaritan Ministries noted.
Health care sharing “is an option that is consistent with their values and faith,” Hopp said of the members. “We’re not supporting unbiblical practices, and there’s also a stewardship issue that members know exactly where their money goes.”
Health care sharing ministries in the United States
The Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries was founded in 2007 to represent the common interests of Health Care Sharing Ministry organizations, which facilitate the sharing of health care needs by individuals and families and their participants.
The alliance includes the nation’s three largest health care sharing ministries: Samaritan Ministries, Christian Care Ministry, and Christian Healthcare Ministries. All three are among health care sharing ministries that have received letters of certification from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those who participate in one of these ministries may receive an exemption from the federal individual health care mandate.
According to the alliance, there are 968,662 individuals in the United States who participate in a health care sharing ministry.
The alliance also notes that there are 104 known and active health care sharing ministries in the United States, as recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The majority of them (97) are Mennonite, Old German Baptist churches, or associations with closed membership. Seven of them offer open or modified open membership.
For more information on health care sharing ministries, visit www.healthcaresharing.org.
Source: Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries
Samaritan Ministries International
Founded in 1994, the Christian-based health care sharing ministry has 81,668 member households (267,278 individuals) worldwide. Members are sharing more than $29 million each month. The monthly share has never exceeded $495 for a family of any size, and is less for couples and single individuals.