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Obamacare's Bump: More Christians Now Sharing Health Care Costs

Christian alternatives to traditional insurance see surge in enrollments.
Obamacare's Bump: More Christians Now Sharing Health Care Costs
Image: Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries
States with laws protecting health care sharing ministries

The Obama administration's health care push didn't just lead 7.1 million Americans to sign up for insurance coverage through government-run exchanges. Christian cost-sharing ministries—exempt from Affordable Care Act requirements—also saw a bump in enrollments.

In the months leading up to the March 31 deadline, tens of thousands of Christians opted for faith-based insurance alternatives, where believers contribute a monthly share toward paying for each others' health care costs.

Month-over-month enrollments doubled and tripled throughout the year at Samaritan Ministries—one of the country's biggest health care sharing ministries, which now has about 113,000 members, 43 percent more than it did a year ago.

Another major program, Medi-Share, reported an average of 500 inquiries a day over the open enrollment period starting in October. Medi-Share saw membership jump to more than 82,000 members nationwide, with a 7 percent increase in March alone.

Last month, Katie Lamb, a self-employed photographer in Houston, ditched her traditional insurance plan for a cost-sharing program through Christian Healthcare Ministries. At 28, Lamb didn't have regular medical bills to pay but liked the idea of having insurance just in case.

By choosing Christian Healthcare Ministries, Lamb said, the money she'd usually pay to an insurance company now goes to helping the body of Christ. "I love that they send out newsletters of other members to pray for and also to give an opportunity to send additional money to these people in great need if you feel called to do so."

This unique structure, which relies on the faith and funds of fellow believers, allows medical cost-sharing ministries (four exist nationwide) to mostly avoid regulation as insurance companies and new requirements under the Affordable Care Act.

Most file financial reports as nonprofits or churches, but the lack of oversight has allowed mismanagement to take place in the past. In the late '90s, leaders of the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter (now Christian Healthcare Ministries) embezzled $25 million.

Medi-Share had to briefly refer sick Christians to its competitor Samaritan Ministries in 2012 after Kentucky banned it from operating in the Bluegrass State, but lawmakers nixed the ban in 2013. Currently, 26 states explicitly protect the right of cost-sharing ministries to operate.

Image: Medi-Share

Now, such groups are benefitting from American's heightened awareness of health care policy. Medi-Share added thousands of new members each in states such as Florida, Colorado, and Texas—all boasting year-over-year growth of at least 70 percent. Samaritan Ministries added over a thousand households a month between December and March, with a record-setting 2,756 in January.

"Health care sharing is still a very small part of the total health care picture," Samaritan Ministries said in a statement to CT, "but we are glad to see an increasing number of Christians who are concerned that their provision for health care reflect their biblical faith."

CT has reported the rise of Christian cost-sharing ministries and their challenges, as well as noted concerns over how federal healthcare reform would affect them. In addition to Medi-Share's legal troubles, CT has also reported on how another cost-sharing ministry, the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter, worked to reclaim credibility following a messy financial scandal that threatened to end the ministry.

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