INDIANAPOLIS — Ellery Hunsley doesn’t have health insurance. But eight years ago, when his daughter went through treatment for a brain tumor, the assistant pastor at a local church didn’t worry about the medical bills.
Hunsley paid every bill out of pocket, largely thanks to the help of strangers — people who, like himself, participate in an alternative to insurance, a health care sharing ministry.
Unlike most uninsured Americans, Hunsley will not have to buy health insurance or risk paying a fine under the dictates of the Affordable Care Act. He and other members of health care sharing ministries are among the minority to be exempted from the individual mandate that begins in 2014.
No one views health care sharing ministries as a solution to the problem of how to provide care for as many people as possible. But their existence represents a creative approach that has worked for a small minority for more than two decades.
Health care sharing ministries stem from the New Testament concept that people must share one another’s burdens.In these ministries, members pay a monthly fee that gets dispersed to a member who needs help paying medical bills. Depending on the ministry, the money may go directly to the family in need or through the ministry.
Most of those who opt to belong lack affordable insurance through an employer. Ministry members must attest they are good Christians and live life accordingly.
“I don’t think it would work without the faith element,” said Tony Meggs, president and chief executive officer of Christian Care Ministry, one of the three large health care sharing ministries. “I don’t think that ultimately it would work outside of this collective moral agreement with each other, that commandment in Galatians that we’re required to carry each other burdens.”…
Christian Care Ministry’s Medi-Share program has about 50,000 members nationwide and was founded in 1993. Samaritan Ministries started the following year and now includes 20,000 households….
Preventive care is not covered. Members are expected to budget and prepare for such visits, including minor things like trips to the doctor for a child’s cold.
About half of Samaritan’s members fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty levels and in some states would qualify for government aid, said James Lansberry, executive vice president.