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Bruce Hawthorn, a pastor from Barberton, Ohio, was involved in a tragic auto accident in 1982 that killed his wife and daughter and left him with $54,000 in unpaid medical bills. Financially weakened, Hawthorn turned to his church for help. The generous responses did more than meet his needs. They also gave him an idea: Why couldn't Christians share payments for each other's medical expenses on an ongoing, organized basis?From that question has grown the Christian Brotherhood, a ministry with an estimated 80,000 members nationwide that processes $4 million worth of member medical bills every month.Others aim to follow Christian Brotherhood's lead, including the Blessed Assurance Bulletin of Lubbock, Texas (currently serving 40 families), and the Medi-Share Program of the Christian Care Ministry, based in Melbourne, Florida (35,000 members).The programs generally have been a success. But one of the programs has experienced financial difficulty, and several declined to release financial reports or audits to Christianity Today. And one academic ethicist challenges the programs' single focus on serving fellow Christians, saying this sidesteps the New Testament charge to care for the needy, regardless of what caused their afflictions.

How share and care works

Christians are drawn to cost-sharing programs for two primary reasons: They are otherwise unable to get insurance or they join from a sense of Christian commitment.In most programs, members pay a fee to join, then contribute a specified monthly financial "share" or "gift" used to pay the medical bills of other members. Shares are generally lower than premiums for conventional health coverage.Many state insurance regulators have asked whether the sharing programs are illegally ...

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October 2, 2000

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