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.