Monday, September 27, 2010

Ministry's health coverage for Christians finds strength in numbers

MELBOURNE, Fla. — A Christian ministry that boasts 40,000 members across the country has a decidedly different approach to health coverage.
Medi-Share, operated by Christian Care Ministry, is the largest of the nation's three major health-care sharing ministries.

With a combined 100,000-plus members pooling their money to help pay one another's health-care bills, these entities get strength in numbers — and also, according to the federal health-care reform measure passed earlier this year, the distinction of being exempt from requirements calling for universal health insurance starting in 2014.

"Christians have always come together to help each other out," ministry President Robert Baldwin said. "We didn't always have health insurance as a nation. That really kind of took off after World War II."

The ministry cites Galatians 6:2 as its mission: "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

With Medi-Share, members pay monthly contributions based on the number of people covered, the age of the oldest member of the family and their "annual household portion," the amount a member must pay out of pocket each year before being eligible to submit medical bills to Medi-Share.

Members can choose a higher annual household portion in exchange for a lower monthly share.

Each contribution is deposited in an individual account in that member's name at a Christian credit union in California. Medi-Share has a limited power of attorney to shift money between members' accounts as well as to withdraw administrative fees.

When a member submits an eligible medical bill, Medi-Share uses that power of attorney to transfer money between accounts accordingly. It also negotiates with health-care providers to lower the bills.

"We don't believe that uninsured people should pay two to three times what insured people pay," Baldwin said.

Members' contributions typically are far less than insurance premiums. For instance, the monthly share for a family of three or more headed by a 50-year-old with a $1,250 annual household portion is as low as $439 a month.

(2 of 2)