Christians are reportedly increasingly joining ministries that assist in paying their members’ health care costs. The so-called “health care sharing ministries” reportedly require their members to pay for each other’s medical procedures as needed.
Despite the services they provide, the ministries do not guarantee that medical costs can be entirely paid for, reports The New York Times. The Christian organizations do not have significant monetary reserves, and rely largely on informal commitments.
“Our only assets are the good will and continued participation of our members,” said James Lansberry, vice president of Illinois sharing ministry Samaritan Ministries.
Much of the interest in the health care sharing ministries may be stemming from the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The bill exempts members of ministries from the “individual mandate,” and any fines, for not being insured.
Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, membership of health care sharing ministries has risen from roughly 200,000 to 530,000, reports U.S. News & World Report.
Chris and Sarah Doyle of Texas, who recently canceled their health insurance to join a sharing ministry, say that they pay $405 monthly for the ministry’s coverage. Their previous health care plan cost $600 monthly.
“There’s a little bit of fear going into it. What if people don’t pay their share and what if money doesn’t come in? But that’s where the faith-based part comes in -- I’m really going to rely on God,” said Sarah.
The Samaritan Ministry reportedly requires members to pay the first $300 for all medical bills. Members of the Samaritan sharing ministry reportedly pay more than $16 million monthly. In 2015, its membership expanded by roughly 50,000.
Many critics of the of health care sharing ministries question their reliability in providing quality health coverage.
“Our message has consistently been that this is not a health insurance product that we regulate, so buyer beware. A premature baby could cost $1 million pretty easily, so it wouldn’t take very many of those to put a significant strain on any group, let alone an unregulated group like this,” said Nick Gerhart, Iowa insurance commissioner.
Sarah Doyle said the informality of her sharing ministry makes her appreciate its personal nature.
"There's something different about writing my checks to someone who needs it. I feel like I'm loving on somebody instead of just paying my premiums," she said.