Faith-Based Health Care 101

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When most people think of health insurance, they think of traditional insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana (HUM) and UnitedHealthcare (UNH) that provide coverage to help pay for medical expenses to policyholders who pay their monthly premiums on time. However, there is a different kind of health coverage that a growing number of Americans today are choosing that falls outside the realm of traditional insurance.

Faith-based health care cost-sharing ministries have been around for several decades, but they have become increasingly popular among many Christians since the Affordable Care Act was enacted. These cost-sharing ministries meet Obamacare's mandate that most Americans carry some type of health care coverage.

What Is the Difference?

There are several big differences between faith-based health care cost-sharing and traditional insurance. Two of the biggest are:
  1. Faith-based cost sharing isn't insurance. This means that cost-sharing ministries aren't licensed or regulated by any insurance board or department.
  2. You must be a professed, practicing Christian and live according to Biblical principles in order to join the organization. This includes regularly attending church, not using tobacco or illegal drugs, and not abusing alcohol or legal drugs.
Unlike traditional insurers, faith-based health care cost-sharing organizations do not guarantee that members' health care costs will be covered. The reason why is simple: If they did, they would be insurance. However, all of the major faith-based health care cost-sharing ministries operating in the U.S. today state that 100 percent of their members' eligible cost-sharing submissions have been covered according to their organization's guidelines.

Faith-based health care cost-sharing ministries generally accept all applicants who apply if they meet the Christian faith and lifestyle criteria noted above. They generally don't allow members to share medical bills incurred due to health conditions that existed before they joined -- however, pre-existing conditions don't preclude anyone from joining.

Also, they generally don't allow members to share expenses for routine checkups, preventative care or dental and vision care. Members are encouraged to set aside some of the money they save due to the lower cost of participating in these organizations, compared to buying traditional insurance, (for most people) to pay for these expenses out of pocket.

A Closer Look

There are three major faith-based health care cost-sharing organizations currently operating in the U.S.: Christian Healthcare Ministries, Medi-Share and Samaritan Ministries. Here is a closer look at each:

Christian Healthcare Ministries

CHM was the first faith-based health care cost-sharing ministry to begin operations more than three decades ago. According to the ministry, CHM members have shared more than $1 billion in health care costs with each other since the organization was founded in 1982. There are currently about 140,000 people participating in CHM -- this is up nearly three-fold since early 2014, when there were about 55,000 CHM members.

There are three levels of membership: Gold, Silver and Bronze. They are distinguished primarily by their monthly contribution amounts: $150 a person for Gold, $85 a person for Silver and $45 a person for Bronze. Monthly contribution amounts are similar to premiums, but the term "premium" isn't used because this would denote insurance, which CHM isn't.

At the Gold level, CHM members can receive up to $125,000 in financial cost sharing per health incident for health care expenses that meet the ministry's guidelines after they have met their $500 personal responsibility. This is similar to an insurance deductible, but again, this term isn't used because it would denote insurance. Silver CHM members must meet a $1,000 personal responsibility and Bronze CHM members must meet a $5,000 personal responsibility.

In addition, CHM members can join the ministry's Brother's Keeper program that provides financial cost sharing for eligible medical bills above and beyond the $125,000 limit. Brother's Keeper cost sharing for Gold members is unlimited, while Brother's Keeper cost sharing for Silver and Bronze members is capped at $1 million. The cost of Brother's Keeper varies depending on the number of program participants and the amount of medical needs, but averages about $25 a quarter.


established in 1993 and administered by Christian Care Ministry, this is the second-oldest faith-based health care cost-sharing ministry in the U.S. Medi-Share members have shared and discounted more than $1 billion in medical bills since the organization was founded, according to its website. There are current about 100,000 people participating in this organization.

There are several different Medi-Share membership options that are based on household size and what it calls the annual household portion, or AHP. Similar to CHM's personal responsibility, this is the amount of health care costs members must pay themselves before their medical bills are eligible for sharing. There are seven different AHP options: $500, $1,250, $2,500, $3,750, $5,000, $7,500 and $10,000. Note that the $500 option is only available for members between the ages of 18 and 29.

Medi-Share also offers a program for seniors who are on Medicare: Senior Assist, which features a $1,250 AHP. In addition, Medi-Share offers a disability sharing program called Manna that can replace up to 80 percent of a disabled member's lost income for up to one year.

The price of Medi-Share memberships varies widely based on the member's age and the AHP level that is chosen. Once the AHP is met, all eligible medical bills can be shared with other members. Medi-Share members are encouraged to use PPO health care providers and hospitals that have agreed to discount their fees for members whenever possible.

Samaritan Ministries

This organization was founded one year after Medi-Share, in 1994. It is smaller than CHM and Medi-Share, with about 25,000 current members.

New members of Samaritan Ministries pay a one-time initiation fee of $200 a person. Membership levels are based on age and size of family: If at least one head of the household is over age 25, the monthly share amount for a single person is $180, for a two-person family is $360, for a family of three or more is $405, and for a widowed or divorced individual with children is $250. If at least one head of the household is age 25 or under, the monthly share amount for a single person is $140, for a two-person family is $280, for a family of three or more is $355, and for a widowed or divorced individual with children is $200.

There are no lifetime or annual caps on amounts of eligible medical bills that can be shared through Samaritan Ministries. Nor is there a limit on the number of medical needs that can be shared by an individual or household.

Right for You?

Faith-based health care cost-sharing ministries are not the right health care option for everyone. However, if you are looking for a less-expensive alternative to traditional health insurance for yourself and your family and meet the faith criteria, they might be worth a closer examination.
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