Health-Care-Sharing Ministries

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"Since the health-care reform bill passed last month, Lansberry has become a hot commodity on the conservative talk-radio circuit where he sings the praises of health-care-sharing ministries (HCSMs), Christian nonprofit organizations through which members agree to cover each others? health-care costs. As president of the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, Lansberry, and his team of lobbyists, had persuaded Senate lawmakers to exempt alliance members from the individual mandate.

Lansberry is also vice president of Samaritan Ministries International, the largest of a handful of HCSMs with 46,000 members (HCSMs have a nationwide membership of roughly 100,000 ). For Samaritan's members, there are no premiums, co-pays, or claims forms. To join the HCSM, applicants must agree to a statement of faith that they are a "professing Christian, according to biblical principles" set out in Romans 10:9-10 and John 3:3. They must agree to adhere to guidelines that include no sex outside of "traditional Biblical marriage," no smoking or drugs, and mandatory church attendance. They must agree to pay their membership fee and monthly share, and they must also agree not to sue Samaritan in the event of any dispute because "Christians are not to sue each other in the civil courts or other government agency."

Members pay for their medical costs out of pocket, and submit their receipts to the ministry, which then "publishes" members? "needs" in a monthly newsletter. There is a $100,000 cap on reimbursements, and certain medical conditions, including some pre-existing conditions, pregnancies of single mothers, abortions, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and sexually transmitted diseases, are excluded. Each member then sends their monthly "share" to a member who has a published "need." In an interview, Lansberry maintained that no Samaritan member has had a "need" go unfunded, because "God is the ultimate provider."



Samaritan Ministries

William P. Bednarz:

"Are medical sharing networks a better option? For the most part, yes. In order to mitigate the financial burdens of health care in a manner that helps us become charitable rather than fearful, our money ought to be allocated directly toward a fellow member in need. Health sharing plans achieve this more effectively because of their non-profit status and minimal overhead costs. Most of them promote some form of community, requiring personal statements of faith before joining. Medi-Share, one of the more popular options, goes so far as to reserve the right to check with members’ ministers, ensuring they regularly attend church. While still abstracted from one’s immediate physical community, these programs provide enrollees with the solace of participating in a community of faith. Members know their contributions are not going to pay someone else’s fees for abortions, transition surgery, or for an executive bonus. While not a definitive attainment of a good, these ministries are a definite help in avoiding ill.

However, most plans are set up to require monthly contributions, mirroring traditional insurance premiums. Members still don't know exactly who they are giving to.

Samaritan Ministries, a protestant health-share program, recognizes this danger. Instead of collecting premiums, Samaritan monthly notifies its members of a medical need of someone in the network; the members then send a pre-set monthly amount directly to the recipient—often with a note of encouragement and a promise to pray for him. Within a society so reliant on abstract mechanisms of interaction, Samaritan offers a relatively good opportunity to engage in friendship. It’s an even better step forward, offering members the chance to practice charity, instead of fear.

The typical objection to calls for departure from modern financial schemes is that such acts are imprudent. Many claim that we must participate in them in order to care for ourselves and our families. And indeed, people buy health and life insurance because they care about their families or business insurance because they care for their employees. But it is not sufficient to serve some others (our families) through a system that is deleterious to "other others" (our society) and which habituates us to using people for our own ends, rather than knowing, loving, or caring for them. Saint Thomas criticizes a notion of prudence that focuses on the individual at the expense of the common good: “the individual good is impossible without the common good of the family, state, or kingdom.” Individual and even familial-oriented prudence must be well-ordered within a prudence directed towards the larger common good. With medical sharing plans, we have the chance to love, not just ourselves and our families, but those other selves and other families with whom we are bound in mutual need. "