Christian Care Ministry and its Medi-share program are changing the way individuals confront higher medical costs by using resources contributed by like-minded religious believers.
Members make a monthly contribution to an account at America's Christian Credit Union, a third party financial institution. Christian Care Ministry holds limited power of attorney that allows it to move money from one member's account to another when medical expenses need to be paid.
Families on Medi-share pay an average of $3,384 annually for their portion, said Tony Meggs, president of Christian Care Ministry, in a telephone interview. By comparison the average annual family insurance premium was $15,073 in 2011, according to the Kaiser Family Institute.
Joshua Miller, a 26-year-old jewelry store sales associate in Cedar City, and his wife Rebekah participate in the group. Miller has had prayers with Medi-Share staff over the phone, and it’s that religious connection which drew him and his family away from traditional health coverage.
“With typical insurance, you’re not dealing with individual people all the time, you’re dealing with a big system,” Miller, who moved to Cedar City to volunteer at Valley Bible Church, said. “The personal connection to the people working at Medi-Share and to the other Christians you’re helping all over the nation with their medical needs is what really appealed to us.”
The Miller’s had an at-home birth for their now 8-month-old son Elliot. Their expenses totaled $2,000, but because of Medi-Share, they only paid $240. The Miller’s told Medi-share they can spend $3,500 annually on medical expenses.
About 60 percent of U.S. companies self-insured their workforces last year, up from 49 percent in 2000, according to The Kaiser Family Foundation.
Medi-share’s membership rose 20 percent last year to 43,000. The group is expected to grow another 20 percent in 2012 and has maintained an average yearly growth rate of 18 percent since it started in 1993.
The Florida-based group says its Medi-Share program is a modern version of the biblical church of Christ, Meggs said.
Each year households declare how much they are capable of paying in medical expenses. Once the declared amount, known as an annual household portion, is met, then the family or individual bills are paid for by another member's contributions.
Members submitted $90 million in medical bills last year. Approximately $60 million of those bills were shared among its members. The other third that wasn’t covered because either member, or member family, had not gone over their annual household portion or the bill was for something that didn’t meet the guidelines set by Medi-Share members.
The group maintains guidelines for membership eligibility and what bills are covered.
Some of the guidelines to qualify an applicant for membership include a “verifiable personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ,” regular and active attendance at “a fellowship of believers,” and abstinence from “sex outside of traditional Christian marriage,” according to the group’s website.
Applicants must also “profess the Statement of Faith,” which means includes beliefs in “one God eternally existing in three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and “the Bible is God's written revelation to man and that it is verbally inspired, authoritative, and without error in the original manuscripts.”
“We basically require people to live by certain lifestyle standards, which are good healthy principles,” Meggs, who is married and has a 13-year-old son, said. “It enables us to keep our costs lower. Our people are healthier and they’re not participating in riskier lifestyles.”
The program operates in 49 states. Kentucky has resisted the group’s health coverage methods through legal action.
A circuit court judge in Kentucky signed an injunction that prohibits Medi-Share from operating in the state. This came after the Kentucky Department of Insurance and the Office of the Attorney General took the group to court in 2002, claiming that Medi-Share was an unauthorized insurer.