Faith communities come up with alternative to health insurance
By Veronica Chufo
System is already working, ObamaCare be damned
EWPORT NEWS, Va. (MCT) Amanda Rooker doesn't pay for health insurance. Instead, she pays a monthly share to cover other people's health bills.
It's part of a medical bill sharing program called Medi-Share, which claims an exemption from federal health reform's individual mandate. Under the exemption, members of healthcare sharing ministries organizations where members share financial resources to pay one another's medical costs are not required to carry insurance by 2014 or face penalties, according to Medi-Share.
Medi-Share is one of three similar, large Christian-based bill-sharing programs available in the U.S. Medi-Share covers about 13,000 households. Combined, the three groups have about 100,000 individual participants, said Robert Baldwin, president of Florida-based Christian Care Ministry, which oversees Medi-Share.
"It's a highly organized way of passing the hat," he said.
Rooker, of York County, Va., enrolled in Medi-Share after the birth of her second son. Her husband had changed jobs, and the new insurance plan was expensive for a "woman of childbearing age," she said.
So Rooker, who's self-employed, signed up her husband and two sons on her husband's employer-sponsored health plan, and shopped around for health insurance for herself. That's when she found Medi-Share.
"At first, it was just a cost-effective option to health insurance," she said.
She pays $133 a month to Medi-Share and $250 per incident per year for her medical bills. Anything over that, she can submit to the group to pay.
"That has really encouraged me to look into self care and natural remedies," Rooker said. She sees a naturopath, a provider who emphasizes natural remedies, which would not be covered by insurance anyway, she said.
The only bill she has submitted to Medi-Share was for a hormonal imbalance, and they covered it, Rooker said.
Members can qualify for discounts if they're healthy. If they're not, they're assigned a health coach. That helps keep monthly shares down, Baldwin said.
Rooker sees it as a kind of catastrophic insurance. If something terrible were to happen, she would have help covering the bills, she said.
"It's less than what I would pay for health insurance," she said. "It's just a more customized personalized health program that works for me."
Medi-Share members are encouraged to seek treatment among the more than 600,000 physicians and tens of thousands of hospitals that are a part of the network to take advantage of prenegotiated discounts, Baldwin said.
All the local hospitals are on the network, Rooker said, so she hasn't worried about out-of-network expenses.
Members must sign a statement of faith professing faith in Christ and agree not to engage in sex outside of traditional Christian marriage, use tobacco or illegal drugs or abuse legal drugs or alcohol.
For that reason, she understands it's not for everybody.
"I don't think it would work well for people who have babies or small children who want to have their immunizations and well checks," she added.
"I would really like to see more affinity-based cost-sharing groups pop up, which are not just evangelical Christian, but anyone else who has a common health belief, so that it's smaller and people can feel more connected to each other," Rooker said. "I think the model is innovative, and I would really like to see it replicated."
When people have a common understanding about health and beliefs, they can agree on what's covered, she said.
"You can trust that other members will provide for your need when you need it because there's a common bond there," she said. .
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