Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Faith-based health-care program Samaritan Ministries has proven to work extremely well for us

For those of you reading my blog for information about our Italian living experiment, I apologize that this entry is off-topic. I had written this article for our church newsletter, but the newsletter is no longer being printed, and I wanted to get this information out to some of my friends and others who may be interested in our experiences with this alternative to traditional insurance. I am so glad someone pointed me in the direction of Samaritan Ministries, and I feel confident that this information will help others as well.

The high cost of health insurance almost scared me into postponing my retirement from teaching in 2010—until a friend told me about an inexpensive and effective alternative, a Christian health-care sharing organization called Samaritan Ministries.

Samaritan’s approach is based on Galatians 6:2, which reads, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Each month Lucy and I are committed to send $360 to another family which has a verified qualifying medical need. In return, when we have unexpected medical issues that exceed $300, Samaritan will share our need with specific other members, who respond by sending their monthly commitment checks to us. We are allowed to choose our own doctor and medical facilities; there is no such thing as a “network preferred provider.”

By participating in this program, we not only save a substantial amount of money but we feel good about paying our monthly shares because we can see they are going directly to help fellow believers. The program is well organized and administered and has a proven track records; Samaritan has been around for 23 years, has more than 30,000 households enrolled (more than 100,000 people) and is growing rapidly.
While Samaritan is quick to point out that it is a faith-based sharing program, not health insurance, Samaritan members are exempt from purchasing insurance under provisions of Obamacare—the Affordable Care Act. The monthly payments are low because Samaritan keeps administrative costs at a minimum. Also, since members make a profession of faith and pledge to adhere to certain moral standards, they generally have healthier than average lifestyles. Specifically, members must abstain from drugs or tobacco products and alcohol abuse and keep sex within the confines of marriage. No payments are made for abortions or sexually transmitted diseases contracted outside of marriage. Members must provide evidence that they attend a church regularly.

Pre-existing conditions and preventative care are not included, nor is dental care. Injuries from auto accidents are not covered because it is easily available within auto insurance policies. Members must submit proof of medical expenses. The maximum amount of sharing for a medical need is $250,000, although members can participate in an optional program that covers needs beyond this amount.

While some of these restrictions may seem undesirable, many health insurance programs also have limited coverage while still costing much more. Lucy and I also set aside another monthly amount in a savings account to cover preventative care, and the combined monthly total we pay is still less than the amount we would pay with most private insurance programs, and the additional money we set aside accumulated in an interest-bearing account until we needed it for medical expenses recently.

On the two occasions we have had a qualifying need that exceeded $300, the amount above $300 has been covered 100 percent, which was not always the case with our old health insurance policy. Not only that, we also received notes of encouragement and commitments of prayer from the members who sent us their monthly shares. It does require some additional bookkeeping on our part, because we not only have to document all of our medical expenses and mail in receipts, but we also have to keep track of which members make payments to us. On one occasion, a couple assigned to pay their monthly share to us missed a payment.  Samaritan contacted the couple to remind them of their commitment, and we received a payment the next month. A Samaritan spokesman told me that if the couple had not paid a second time, the need would have been re-assigned to another family.

Samaritan Ministries is not the only Christian healthcare sharing ministry.  Other similar organizations are Christian Healthcare Ministries and Christian Care Ministries (Medi-Share), and both of these have also been around for more than 20 years and have been positively reviewed by a number of long-standing members, as has Samaritan.

Even though I read all I could about Samaritan, after 30 years as a state employee with traditional insurance, I still had some misgivings about abandoning the traditional model. Samaritan makes it clear that it has a much different philosophy. In its ministry guidelines booklet, it says, “Samaritan Ministries is an arrangement whereby Christians share to assist one another with medical expenses through voluntary giving. We are not licensed or registered by any insurance board or department, since we are not practicing the business of insurance. We believe Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Provider for all of life’s needs. Individuals and families have the primary responsibility for their own health and decisions related to seeking health care. When they have burdens that are greater than they can bear, we firmly believe that the body of Christ, at the local church level first, and then in a broad corporate sense, should bear one another’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ.”

If you are like me, you will want to read as much as you can about Christian health sharing programs before making a decision. Each company has a web site that gives complete details. I read and re-read Samaritan’s site several times during the months before I had to make a decision. I also called the friend who recommended Samaritan to ask a few additional questions. I have been a member now for more than four years, and I am very pleased with our choice. If you have questions that I can answer, please don’t hesitate to e-mail us or give us a call.

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