CENTRAL FLORIDA, USA – One of three Christian-based bill-sharing programs in the United States, Medi-Share can be compared to a highly efficient way of passing the hat.
When Michael Bristol incurred $800,000 in medical costs, he didn’t worry, for he had 43,000 people happy to pay the bills. Like all the other members of Medi-Share, Bristol knew he could count on his fellow members when those hospital and doctors’ invoices started pouring into his mailbox.
Deductible Was “Whopping” $250
Medi-Share, a program of Central Florida – based Christian Care Ministry, is heaven sent for small business people like Bristol, who with his father-in-law, runs a computer sales and service shop in Vero Beach.
“I never had to worry about payment of the medical bills,” said Bristol. “They’ve never failed me and been incredibly helpful. I had no fear of going to the hospital.”
After his heartbeat would not stop pulsating behind his left ear, Bristol sought medical help. The culprit was a dural arteriovenuous fistula, or DAVF, an abnormal connection of arteries and veins near the brain.
Correcting the dangerous problem required multiple brain surgeries at both the Mayo Clinic and Shands. While the total bill topped $750,000, Bristol’s deductible was a “whopping” $250.
If that was not enough, he also had a bunch of folks praying for him. In an era when some insurance companies prefer to take away, rather than give out, Medi-Share seems downright miraculous.
Launched in 1993, Medi-Share is not insurance, but rather a health-care sharing ministry where members do not pay for insurance, but rather join their resources to help each cover medical costs.
Medi-Share facilitates an exchange of funds on behalf of members so they can support fellow members rather than a for-profit company.
On average, individuals contribute $170 a month, while families chip in $282 monthly towards shared medical costs.
The 600,000 providers that participate in the program send bills directly to Medi-Share, which in turn makes the eligible bills available for members to share.
In the past 18 years, Medi-Share members have shared more than $435 million for the payment of medical expenses. Discounted medical costs from the network of providers add an extra $115 million in savings.
“What is unique is that it is a member-driven concept,” said president and CEO Tony Meggs.
Vice president and medical director Dr. Peter Weiss stresses that the members run the ship. For appeals, a seven-member panel selected at random from the entire membership has the ultimate say.
“It’s not our money, it’s the members’ money,” said Meggs.
Expected To Grow
Meggs expects these health-sharing programs to grow as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act increases pressure on employers. The Act exempts members of these health-sharing ministries from the healthcare law mandates to purchase insurance by 2014.
“Employers are putting more of the insurance burden on their employees,” added Meggs, who cited a McKenzie Consulting study of 1,300 companies noting that 30 percent of responding businesses plan to either offer no health coverage or provide less coverage for their employees. “Congress saw this as a unique concept.”
Medi-Share, however, is not for everyone. Members are ultimately responsible for their own bills.
As a Christian sharing program, there can be no guarantees other than the commitment of the membership to care for their sick brothers and sisters.
Routine exams are not covered, because members are expected to practice responsible living.
“Routine maintenance is part of your own stewardship,” said Weiss.
“You should be budgeting for those expenses, because you have personal responsibility to your own health. The goal here is to help Christians bear their burden for unpredictable occurrences.”
Members are expected to be part of a fellowship of believers and to actively support that ministry and live under its principles. They agree not to engage in sex outside of a traditional Christian marriage or use tobacco or illegal drugs.
Do not expect payment for an abortion or for birth control procedures or for alcoholism or drug abuse treatment or any medical misfortune resulting from a lifestyle contrary to Biblical values.
After all, Medi-Share expects you to be a responsible, Christian adult.
“The vast majority of medical treatment is given for diseases you shouldn’t have in the first place,” said Weiss.
On the other hand, good living has significant rewards. As an incentive, share costs are reduced for members who meet criteria such as BMI greater than 17.5 and less than 30 or who have a waist size of 38 inches or less (for men) and 35 inches (for women).
Weiss is very involved in promoting wellness through the disease-reversal aspect of the ministry, which helps patients with lifestyle diseases such as diabetes to regain control of their health.
Restore: Health And Fitness Program
In addition to Medi-Share, Christian Care Ministry operates Restore, a telephonic health and fitness program that connects members with certified health providers with the goal of disease reversal without the use of medications or procedures.
Members gain both a hands-on coach, as well as a prayer partner and friend who will gently guide them through the lifestyle changes necessary for weight loss, exercise and good nutrition. Graduating from the program typically represents a 32 percent decrease in medical costs.
The Ministry’s 2,000-member Manna program brings prayer and funds for disabled workers. Participants commit to helping to replace up to 80% of disabled members’ income for up to a year.
To address the Medicare debacle looming as Baby Boomers retire, Christian Care Ministry has also instituted Senior Assist, which works akin to a Medigap policy, at $101 a month, regardless of age.
With Healthy Church, Christian Care Ministry offers interactive tools for congregations to better manage the health of their parishioners.
Similar to Twitter, Prayer Stream utilizes existing social technology to connect members, who can post prayer requests or notes of encouragement as they pray live on the 24/7 prayer stream.
“You may follow the prayer stream of your church or any other stream you choose,” said Meggs.
A society accustomed to traditional insurance may have trouble wrapping its mind around the Ministry’s programs. Faith is at work here, and faith can work wonders.
“God intends for us to be healthy and to live in a certain way,” said Weiss.
For more information about Christian Care Ministry log on to MyChristianCare.org or call 800-772-5623