In June 2014, Jordan Hess was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Jordan and his wife Jennie had recently switched from traditional health insurance to Medi-Share, a health care sharing ministry (HCSM). With his cancer diagnosis, one big question arose: Will our bills be paid?
After 5 months of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation, and a 10-hour surgery, Jennie said the bills “exceeded $160,000, and the Medi-Share shared all our bills.”
“[This] is more than just helping take care of medical bills,” Jordan added. “It’s a family, it’s a group of people that stick with you through the hardest time of your life.”
Dan and Yvonne Celia, members of Samaritan Ministries, agreed. Dan is a financial advisor and host of Financial Issues on American Family Radio. The Celias see Samaritan not only as a provider of health care, but also as an avenue of ministry.
“Samaritan is a way in which we can be God’s instrument to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Dan.
Health care sharing ministries (HCSMs) are not insurance companies, but are groups of like-minded people who share similar ethical and religious beliefs, coming together to share each other’s medical burdens.
Some HCSMs have been around since the early 1990s. However, in the past 8-10 years, they have seen dramatic growth for two reasons: skyrocketing insurance premiums and the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare).
When ObamaCare passed, there were about 150,000 HCSM members in the U.S. Since then, HCSM membership has grown more than 600%.
“The number of people participating in this alternative way to cover medical bills crossed the one million mark in late ,” said Dr. Dave Weldon, former Congressman (FL-R) and spokesman for the Alliance of HCSMs.
The alliance, founded in 2007, represents the common interests of HCSMs and protects the rights of members to engage in health care sharing as an alternative to medical insurance.
Two noteworthy and respected members of the alliance are long-time supporters of AFA – Samaritan Ministries and Medi-Share.
In the late 1980s, Samaritan Ministries founder Ted Pittenger joined a health care sharing ministry and was pleased with his experience with this new “non-insurance” way to pay for medical needs.
Convinced that others would be interested in biblical, affordable health care, he began prayerfully considering how Pittenger might improve the process to reach a wider population, share medical needs more efficiently, and maintain biblical foundations.
The result was Samaritan Ministries International, which began sharing health care needs in 1994.
By building the ministry on Galatians 6:2, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” Samaritan seeks to provide its members with the opportunity to apply the principles of New Testament living to modern-day health care.
Presently, more than 80,000 member households (260,000 individuals) worldwide say they are “happily uninsured” and greatly appreciate the way the ministry has provided a way for them to pray for and send monthly financial shares directly to their fellow members.
Samaritan’s community is currently sharing more than $28 million each month, yet the monthly share (read “premium”) has never exceeded $495 for a family of any size, and it costs even less for couples and singles.
Anthony Hopp, Samaritan vice president of external relations, observed, “Millions of Americans can’t control where their insurance dollars go and don’t have a say if they are indirectly funding ungodly practices like abortion … . But Samaritan members can be confident they will not be asked to send any of their monthly shares to help pay for anything that dishonors God.”
Operated by Christian Care Ministry, Medi-Share is the largest HCSM in the U.S., with nearly half a million members.
Medi-Share was established in 1993 when its founder began the process of formalizing an approach to sharing health care burdens. The idea took root, grew in popularity, and now more than 25 years later, the ministry has shared and discounted more than $2.6 billion in medical bills.
Medi-Share’s stated mission is “to connect and equip Christians to share their lives, faith, talents, and resources with others.” Their vision is to be “an authentic Christian community that reflects the love of Christ.”
Medi-Share offers flexible, affordable options for any size family that on average, costs about half the price of other health insurance. Members have free 24/7 access to telehealth providers through a platform called MDLIVE, giving them access to a board-certified physician for non-emergency consultations any time from any place through a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Medi-Share also offers a Health Incentive – a list of health standards (e.g. blood pressure, waist circumference, BMI) that if met, result in a 20% discount on monthly premiums.
Like Samaritan, Medi-Share ensures your health care dollars go to help other Christians, rather than funding medical choices that are not God-honoring.
An HCSM may have unique elements specific to its service, but the majority share many components in common. For example, Samaritan and Medi-Share, as well as most other HCSMs, require applicants to agree to a statement of faith – which in many cases is explicitly Christian.
For all HCSMs, applicants must also make other pledges such as to abstain from tobacco use and illegal drugs, limit or refrain from alcohol use, attend church regularly, and/or keep sexual activity within the confines of traditional biblical marriage.
Medical burdens arising from participation in activities violating an HCSM’s guidelines will result in the needs not being shared. However, for those who are already living a godly lifestyle and have no reservation about pledging to continue to do so, Samaritan Ministries or Medi-Share may offer an affordable option for sharing medical needs.
Editor’s Note: The above article originally appeared in the AFA Journal print edition and online edition for June 2019. Get a free one-year subscription to the print edition here.