A new(ish) health care sharing ministry for Catholics!


I’ve been touting health care sharing ministries for quite some time, pretty much since I launched The Self-Pay Patient blog back in August 2013.

The concept is pretty simple – individuals and families voluntarily agree to pay one another’s medical bills, facilitated by a well-organized central office that matches the donations of members with the medical bills submitted by other members. It isn’t insurance, but in some ways it serves the same function, giving people the peace of mind knowing that if they suffer an injury or illness and can’t pay the bill out-of-pocket, they’ll have financial support from their fellow ministry members.

Among the many benefits of membership in a sharing ministry (I’m a member of one, and am quite happy about it) is that they are typically far less expensive than health insurance, even though they can provide protection from large medical bills that is roughly comparable to that offered by conventional health insurance. In my case, I pay roughly one quarter what I would if I were on my wife’s plan from her employer.

Another benefit is that joining a ministry means that even though you’re technically considered to be uninsured, you are exempt from Obamacare’s mandate to purchase insurance and the tax that law imposes on the uninsured.

There are currently five sharing ministries: Samaritan Ministries, Christian Care Ministry (which may be better known as Medishare), Christian Healthcare Ministries, Liberty HealthShare, and Altrua HealthShare. All five of these are founded as Christian organizations, and with the exception of Liberty HealthShare all of them require members to be practicing Christians.

One issue that has come to my attention in the past is that the language used by the existing ministries describing the ‘statement of faith’ they require members to agree with in order to join can be problematic for Catholics. All of the ministries come out of the Protestant tradition (I’ve been told Altrua was founded as a Mormon ministry, which some argue isn’t part of the Protestant or even Christian faith – not going to have that discussion here, but Altrua does allow anybody of any Christian denomination to join).

I’ll skip the theological lesson (in part because I’m not qualified to provide it) on the issue, and I have heard some Catholics say there’s no problem with the statements of faith required by the ministries, but suffice it to say I’ve also been told by some Catholics that they’re just not able to honestly say they agree with 100 percent of the statements of faith.

Because Obamacare only granted the exemption to sharing ministries that existed at least ten years before the law was passed, it seemed on its face that there could be no new sharing ministry catering to Catholics.

Fortunately, yesterday (at least I’ve been told it was yesterday) it was announced that Samaritan Ministries had launched a “Catholic member-representative of the Samaritan Ministries International health care sharing ministry” called Christ Medicus Foundation CURO. Basically, it’s a part of Samaritan Ministries but with its own program geared specifically towards Catholics.

From the Web site:

As a Catholic Living Health Care Ministry, CMF CURO offers a Christ-centered alternative to secular medical insurance for committed Christians that is fully consistent with the Catholic faith, the ideals of Christian Community, and The Gospel of Life. Joining CMF CURO empowers faith-filled Catholics and fellow Christians to comply with specific Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care law exemptions, enabling us as a Christian community to participate in health care that empowers us to actively live out our faith in daily life.

As a Catholic Member-Representative program to SMI, CMF CURO is managed in compliance with Catholic moral teaching and the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) of Catholic health care…

We believe it is our mutual responsibility as patients, doctors, and health and wellness care providers, to work together as active members of CMF CURO to provide to you the best Christ-centered health care and caring for you and your family.

Vitally important is that CMF CURO is a faith-based, Christ-centered health plan that empowers participants to actively manage their health and wellbeing while actively living their Catholic faith. Unlike other health care programs, CMF CURO does not participate in the financing or promotion of any care that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Most critically, CMF CURO supports the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death. Unlike the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates, specific unhealthy, anti-life, and death-causing procedures (eg. abortion, contraception, sterilization, in-vitro fertilization, assisted suicide and euthanasia) are not published based on faith-centered concerns.

The site also explains the process that members go through when they have a medical need, which looks pretty much exactly like the regular Samaritan process to me:

… Upon receipt of the SMI monthly newsletter identifying a member in need, the CMF CURO member sends their sharing check along with a letter of prayer to the member in need.

A CMF CURO member who receives services from their doctor or other health care provider and wishes to submit a need to SMI simply tells the health care provider that they are a direct-pay patient and presents their CMF CURO card. The receptionist will take the member’s information and the health care provider will code the services provided and send the total cost electronically for pricing, and then on to SMI for any negotiations. The SMI negotiator will work with the health care provider to lower the costs of the services provided and conclude the final cost which the member must approve.

When SMI approves the medical need for publication, the need will be published in their monthly newsletter and members are instructed to send their monthly share check, to the member in need as instructed. CMF CURO will automatically deduct its costs from the member’s registered account. The member in need will have a checklist of all sharing members that are to send them a check, and will be able to view the checks sent to their account in their name on the CMF CURO website to ensure that everyone has contributed as requested by SMI. When the bank processes the check(s) received, it deposits the money into the member in need’s account. The member in need is then able to use their CMF CURO membership debit card to pay for the medical services they received.

The costs to join look to be identical to that of Samaritan, $180 a month for an individual over age 25 and $405 for a two-parent family (here are the details on how much it costs to join CMF CURO).

This is probably some of the best news that I’ve heard in a while regarding alternatives to conventional health insurance. While it was always possible that a new ministry could be started, its members would not have received the same exemption from Obamacare’s tax on being uninsured that members of the existing ministries did. By partnering with Samaritan, the Christ Medicus Foundation has found a way to provide a sharing option for members of the Catholic faith who could not in good conscience sign on to the statements of faith required by the other ministries.

I’m hopeful that there will be more good news down the road along these lines, as I’ve also heard from someone else that is attempting to put together a Catholic-specific sharing option embedded in one of the existing ministries. Until then, if you’re Catholic and looking for a way to stay true to your faith while still having a way to pay for major medical bills if they arise, I hope you’ll check out CMF CURO!


I managed to get a few details wrong about membership in CMF CURO, which someone from Samaritan was kind enough to contact me and let me know about – the delay in making this correction is entirely my own fault!

Anyway, the cost to join CMF CURO is based on the same structure as Samaritan, PLUS an additional fee for the added benefits that CMF CURO provides members as well as administrative costs. The chief added benefit is the CMF CURO Fund, which will help with medical expenses that go beyond the $250,000 sharing limit plus the Share to Save and Special Prayer Need limits. It is essentially an additional layer of sharing for any truly extraordinary medical needs.

The added cost comes to $55 for the CURO Fund and $29 for administrative costs, regardless of whether a single person or an entire family is a member.

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19 Responses to A new(ish) health care sharing ministry for Catholics!

  1. Thanks Sean.

    I have heard that the health sharing ministry model is predicted to either lose its exemption or become insolvent as more customers try to use this exemption.

    Can you or others comment on the solvency concerns? Noting the debit card concept and the negotiations by the ministry with the provider can you elaborate on how that process works? I am a provider and have never been involved in this. I also don’t contract with insurance companies and run a cash based practice for non-Medicare patients. I am wondering are the ministries leasing other insurance payment contracts to get the “negotiated price”?

    • sean@impactpolicymanagement.com says:

      Solvency probably isn’t the right term since they’re not insurance companies, but financial viability is always something worth considering. I think the model has held up fairly well over the last several decades, and so long as the ministries hold to their standards I don’t think that viability will be threatened. As for leasing networks, I think two of the five do that, two of them either let their members negotiate or handle negotiation for their members, and one just pays a percentage of Medicare fees (I think it’s 175 percent of Medicare) and have rarely had any provider say that wasn’t enough. If you offer clear cash prices (and you do) it shouldn’t be a problem.

  2. Stephen Lowe says:

    Does this Healthcare service cover European Catholics?

    • sean@impactpolicymanagement.com says:

      I’m not sure, I know ministries often cover people who go overseas on missions, but if you’re a European citizen or just an American living overseas, it might not apply. I’d contact them directly to ask.

  3. Adam G. says:

    Any update on whether Altrua gets the Obamacare exemption?

    • sean@impactpolicymanagement.com says:

      I have not heard anything yet, which I assume means they are not qualified for the exemption. Not a lawyer, but I’d think they may have a decent claim that the 10-year lookback requirement is arbitrary and capricious, or someone else representing another faith that doesn’t have a ministry option may be able to sue on religious discrimination grounds.

      • Kyle says:

        On their website they have a link to a PDFS saying that they think they’ll be exempt after they attempt a merger with another healthshare caring ministry. I’m not sure who that could be or what the timeline is though.

  4. Kyle Wilson says:

    I am a latter-day saint, commonly called “mormon”, and would like to offer a quick comment for informational purposes. We mormons are absolutely, unequivocally Christians. Perusing any of our sacred texts (The Bible and The Book of Mormon) or mormon.org for a few minutes will readily verify this. Jesus Christ is so critical to our religion that His name is embedded in the official name of the church, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

  5. Kyle Wilson says:

    I should add, I realize this is not the forum for a theological debate, and my intentions with my prior comment are informational only.

    I should also add that I am an eye doctor and am very interested in developing a practice that is cash only, and I appreciate The Self-Pay Patient blog with it’s ideas and resources for those of us who no longer wish to participate in the insanity that is our current health care system.

    Thank you, and keep it up!

    • sean@impactpolicymanagement.com says:

      No problem, I appreciate your comments! And good luck setting up a cash-only practice, let me know how it goes.

  6. Ellen Sandles says:

    Sean, I read your book and I just spent a great deal of time and effort researching Liberty HealthShare as I am not Christian and that appears to be my only “ministry” option.

    As a resident of New York City, I have found a “flaw” in this approach to medical care that I would appreciate your comments on.

    In essence, Liberty HealthShare can tell me that they pay for annual wellness visits and tests, but they can’t tell me whether the facilities I use would actually accept their rates or accept if I handed them a Liberty HealthShare card.

    In 2009, I deliberately switched all my doctors to those affiliated with NYU Medical Center, a very fine hospital. However, my annual diagnostic tests are done at the Beth Israel/Mount Sinai Phlips Ambulatory Center near where I live in New York. Those test results are then sent to my NYU doctors.

    I went out of my way to write a two-page detailed, professional letter to the head of Patient Services at NYU Medical to explain that I was unhappy with the Obamacare plan I was forced into, I wanted to maintain my doctors, and to ask if they would accept Liberty HealthShare’s rates, giving in detail what they were.

    I received back a very general letter along the lines of “the self-pay discount” is standardized and if you are experiencing financial hardship here is the information to contact our Financial Counselors.

    I wrote to Liberty HealthShare directly providing very specific details about my annual mammogram, bone scan, blood tests so they could see the CPT codes, what the “retail billing” is and then what I paid after my previous insurance company — the one I liked and wanted to keep that was canceled — what they actually paid.

    All I got back from Liberty HealthShare is information about how they work, but nothing specific to my question, which was namely, “What standing do you have to pay $225 for a mammogram instead of $804 if Philips Ambulatory never heard of you?”

    I even went to the website of Quest Diagnostics that does the blood work. Sure, they have a list of Insurance Companies. But, if your company is not on that list, you have to go through filling out some kind of form to get financial assistance. I didn’t see any ministries listed.

    One of your references in the book, “Save on Medical” has only one facility for the mammogram not at all in my area, and another mention in your book, “Save on Labs” apparently uses Quest Labs but notes that it “doesn’t provide service in New York, Maryland and New Jersey because direct testing is prohibited by law.”

    Now, understand that I have been self-paying my dentist and chiropractor for years, and getting better rates. These are solo practitioners who run their own business who I could talk to directly. All parties are happy.

    But, it seems to me that when it comes to diagnostic tests that are at larger facilities, or doctors who are part of larger hospital practices, or hospitals themselves, it is the insurance companies who have this entire gig wrapped up and if your ministry is not connected to them, you are simply going to be shoved into the “self-pay” category and put through the ordeal of filling out forms and attempting to negotiate a discount based on need — all with no guarantee.

    I told Liberty HealthShare that since they have a Patient Relations Department, it’s their job to call NYU and Philips Ambulatory and get themselves accepted. Until then, I can’t accept the risk of being without official health insurance and potentially face extremely high annual diagnostic preventative test prices simply because the organizations I use never heard of “health care ministries” and really don’t care as they have already negotiated with large insurance companies their rates.

    Believe me, I would all too happy to dump my Obamacare otherwise.

    • sean@impactpolicymanagement.com says:

      Thanks for sharing your situation and concerns. That is one of the things about the sharing ministries, they generally aren’t part of networks that guarantee certain pre-negotiated prices for services. In my experience (which isn’t extensive, one of the benefits of being fairly healthy) the negotiated rates between insurers and lab facilities aren’t that great compared to what you might find at one of the online sources, or simply by calling around. If you are committed to using a certain set of providers, however, and those providers aren’t friendly to the self-pay concept, then it may just make sense for you to stick with your current insurance. Assuming your diagnostic imaging and lab tests occur on a fairly regular basis you should be able to get cash prices from Beth Israel/Mt. Sinai (they’d be inflated, but you’d have a number to use) and compare what you’d spend out-of-pocket with them compared to what you’d save in insurance premiums. I suspect that the worst case scenario is that you’d use Beth Israel/Mt. Sinai, Liberty would reimburse based on their standard formula (I believe it’s 175% of Medicare rates), and then you’d be on the hook for whatever the balance is. That may be a little, it may be a lot – but I think it’s probably worth looking into. As messed up as hospitals and other facilities usually are at giving prices on procedures, it seems like imaging and labs are something they can actually give a price for (even thought it’s the inflated chargemaster price).

      Hope this helps!

      • Regarding the mammogram- simply call several nearby radiology centers and ask them what the cash price for a mammogram is. Tell them you have no insurance. You will be surprised at how affordable the cash price may be. It is my experience that many radiology centers cash prices are actually too low to be profitable. Many of these centers set their prices ridiculously low because they have made the false assumption that everyone is fully insured and so the cash price is set for indigent or “special favors” buyers. I recommend you take advantage of this market misprice until they figure it out.

    • Ellen,

      I read your plight and have two recommendations. In a city of New York’s density I would think it safe to say that there should be a good physician or group that offers lab services at a very competitive price. This might mean you will have to look again at a more “user friendly” practice than the large groups you are working with. I offer full lab services for my patients at very reasonable prices. I am in Florida. There are other doctors throughout the country who have practices like mine.

      There is a website Push Health (https://www.pushhealth.com/) that serves as a virtual website. You could seek a doctor on this site who could then via Push Health’s national contract with Quest Lab, offer you a cash price for lab testing.

      The prices are excellent but you will need to pay the doctor for ordering, facilitating and providing you feedback on your results. This information I am giving you relates to lab work only. Push Health also can serve for prescription fulfillment and virtual consultation but obviously can’t serve as a true medical doctor service. You could use the service to get around the New York/New Jersey “barrier to entry” legal mumbo jumbo to get affordable and predictable lab costs and results. You could then bring that information or send that information to your current doctors in lieu of paying outrageous bills for these large group models. You could even ask your doctors to enroll in Push Health to offer and coordinate these services for you. It costs them nothing to offer this to their clients. I am enrolled in this program and charge 90 dollars per episode of care for my involvement.

      Hope this helps.

  7. D Ikeda says:

    Thank you do much for all of this information! I have an adult child in America who will need some insurance soon. I love this idea and her beliefs and lifestyle fit well with Liberty BUT they don’t cover any work related accidents (!) Our child is a freelance performer and does many different jobs. I will call Liberty but it seems pretty clear that if a person was injured doing this sort of work they would not be covered.

    Do you have any ideas on how to deal with this issue? I live out of the country. Reading about accident insurance but it seems to cover lost income etc as perhaps the cost of a major accident . I would appreciate anyone’s thoughts on this.

    D. Ikeda

    • The only additional comment I can come up with is there are emergency transport service insurance that can be purchased here in the US (I am a US citizen) . I know as a member of the Southern Medical Society that I can buy an annual policy for that reason. So….if you travel abroad and were stable but ill, it might be possible to use a service like this to transport yourself back to your native country.

  8. amar says:

    what about people over the age of 65?

    • Sean Parnell says:

      You’d have to check directly with them, but generally they become similar to a “supplemental” Medicare policy for the retired.

  9. Randy Cox says:

    Thanks for publishing info like this on the health sharing ministries. We’ve put together a page listing each one, with some links to reviews, articles, etc. at https://pricinghealthcare.com/vendors/types/healthSharingMinistries/110. Hope that’s helpful for some of this site’s self-pay patients.

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