"We need to go back to what we were as an early Christian community," said Louis Brown, the director of CMF CURO, a Catholic health-sharing ministry that has partnered with Samaritan Ministries. This means "accompanying each other in all aspects of our life" and ensuring that the Lord is "Lord over everything" including health care.
CMF CURO was launched in October of 2014 as an alternative to the insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. It partnered with Samaritan Ministries to ensure compliance with the health care law, since only health-sharing ministries created before 2000 are accepted as legal substitutes for insurance.
Aside from the monthly premiums or "shares," members cover up to $300 of each medical need as their way of contributing. The cost of needs are generally shareable among members – excluding pre-existing conditions and preventive care – from $300 up to $250,000.
Sometimes a person may have to pay more than $300 up front for medical costs. In these cases they may pay that amount and be reimbursed later by other members for the costs exceeding $300.
The ministry encourages everyone to negotiate their costs with providers, with the help of Samaritan Ministries. CMF CURO can also send members a reference price – 125 percent of the Medicare cost of that service -- that is fair to both patient and provider, with the help of a price administrator who works with the ministry.
Members can also use a CMF CURO debit card so when they receive shares from other members to pay for medical costs, the money goes straight to the debit card and not as a check in the mail. The card is usable only for medical services.
There is no reimbursement for morally-objectionable services like abortion, contraceptives, or in-vitro fertilization. Families cover one another's medical needs along with personal notes and prayers.
Participants must live a healthy, Christian lifestyle: regular church attendance and no drug abuse and sexual immorality. They also must abstain from tobacco use – except for a special cigar or pipe smoke – and must submit a yearly recommendation from their pastor.
Most pre-existing conditions aren't eligible for reimbursement unless "the condition appears to be cured" and a year has passed "without symptoms, treatment, or medication." For more serious problems like Type 1 diabetes or a previous bout with cancer, the waiting period is longer.
Someone with these problems could conceivably enroll and rely upon the generosity of other members to cover their needs, however.
The ministry now has members in 48 states. 55,000 households have now enrolled with Samaritan Ministries.
For two families, the biggest factors in their decision to switch from the private insurance market and the exchanges to CMF CURO were the high cost and the Christian ethos – "conscience and cost," as one member put it.
"The most immediate benefit has been cost-saving," said Tim Mayer, a Catholic father of three from Manassas, Virginia.
The Charlotte Lozier report on health-sharing ministries found that member families paid anywhere from 45 to 60 percent less in monthly payments compared to market insurance, saving them hundreds of dollars a month and thousands per year.
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The "deeper benefit," Mayer added, was "the opportunity to take full responsibility for our own health and to take a more active role in managing it." While normal private insurance is operated behind-the-scenes to the policyholder with insurers and providers negotiating costs, health-sharing involves considerably more personal oversight.
And it is important to have truly Christian health insurance, Mayer added, "giving the Lord more of our trust, in terms of providing for our physical needs."
For Brooks Cross, a father of five from Hanover, Virginia, conscience played a key role in his decision to enroll his family in CMF CURO so that his premiums would not go to cover abortions, contraceptives, and sterilizations.
"Other people, if they want to live out Humanae Vitae, the Church's teachings, they want to be fruitful and multiply and bring children into the world as a blessing, this is a way that other Christians just basically help you pay for that and make it happen," Cross told CNA.
In the midst of a job change, Cross was searching for affordable health insurance for his family that would not subsidize abortion and contraception. However, "the rates were just so high," he said of the private market plans.
After he and his wife prayed and searched, they found Samaritan Ministries and saw they would pay far less in monthly premiums. It was "kind of a leap [of faith]," Cross admitted, but added "it allows us to live out the Gospel."