ORLANDO, Fla. - Most Americans know about the "public option" in the debate over health care reform, but there's another health care option many Christians across the country are choosing.
"Medi-Share" is a way of sharing medical bills based on the Bible.
Click here to to learn more about Medi-Share.
Bill Jones and his wife Denise, both members of the program, run a Christian bookstore near Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Because they are blessed with good health, they rarely needed the traditional and expensive health insurance coverage. So they decided to try Medi-Share, a plan where Christians help each other pay their medical bills, often at about half the cost of regular insurance.
Little did they know they would soon need to put this new health care plan to the test.
"There was an incident with my wife and she was rushed to the hospital," Mr. Jones said.
Turns out, Denise had a pulmonary embolism - a potentially life-threatening situation. Her weeks of care led to medical bills that mounted into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Christian Health Care
After convincing the hospital that Medi-Share was indeed legitimate, Mr. Jones said everything was paid for. Plus, Medi-Share employees even prayed with the family.
"The immediate thing was feeling that there were people that cared and they were going to help you through this," Mr. Jones said.
Mrs. Jones said the bills were also easy to manage.
"The bills would come and you could see what needed to get paid and then I could bring up the web site and see that it was being processed," she said.
But Mr. Jones said the biggest difference was the Christian care.
"The stack of letters that we got were extremely comforting," he said. "Hundreds of e-mails and letters from strangers, pouring out their hearts to us in prayer."
Galations 6:2 states, 'Carry each others burdens and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.' This is just one of the scriptures that Florida-based Christian Care Ministry, said is foundational to its philosophy and practice of helping Christians share each other's medical expenses.
"It's not just taking care of each other's medical bills," said Robert Baldwin, president of Christian Care Ministry. "It's really supporting each other as the Body of Christ should."
Baldwin said their members pay a monthly "share" that is used to pay fellow member's medical bills. It could range from the low $100s to several hundred dollars a month, depending on the family's medical needs.
There are approximately 100,000 Christians nationwide that belong to sharing ministries like Medi-Share, which has about 40,000 members.
"We've been around 16 years and in the process we've shared almost $450 million worth of bills. So clearly there's a history of reliability," Baldwin added. "But on the other hand, it's really Christians putting their faith in God to provide through their fellow Christians."
Baldwin also said Medi-Share will pay a member's medical expenses up to $1 million per year.
"Typically, by the time you hit $1 million you're either cured or dead. Not to put it bluntly," he said. "And then there's the $5 million life-time cap, which I don't think any body's ever hit."
But Medi-Share is not for everyone. You must be a Christian and you must be committed to wellness and health.
For example, if you smoke, are obese, or drink alcohol excessively, you would not be allowed to join Medi-Share.
"The Bible tells us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and that they were bought for a price and are therefore to be kept pure. And those are things that act against those principles," Baldwin added. "So, it's common sense number one. And number two, it's good Biblical sense."
Dr. Paul Schoppe, who has a foot and ankle practice in Stuart, Fla., said the combination of the spiritual and medical support including live "health coaches" helped him lose weight and get healthy.
"And the secret that I discovered is that if I make that promise to God to watch what I'm eating, as silly as it may sound, you know, does God care about what I eat? Well, ultimately He does," Schoppe said.
Schoppe also said the fact that he had to lose weight or be kicked out of the program was a good incentive to stay on track.
"If you are not willing to take part in your own health, than you are going to put a lot more risk to everyone in that program," he said.
And speaking of risk, with Christian Care Ministry there is no guarantee the money will be there to pay every member's medical bills.
"But there's a pretty good track record of 16 years that suggests that that will happen," Baldwin said. "And that's really the fundamental difference between health insurance and a sharing ministry. Health insurance has reserves, a profit stream that adds to those reserves and so they promise to pay your medical bill."
Sharing Among Believers
Balwin said in an attempt to keep the share amount down, the company does not build up large reserves and does not own buildings in large metro areas as investments.
"We simply facilitate the sharing process between Believers and it has been good for 16 years," he added.
The Jones' have tried both private health insurance and now Medi-Share, and said they will never go back to private health insurance.
"For a small business person who's trying to watch out for expenses, the monetary situation is one thing because it's a huge difference," Mr. Jones said. "It is a major savings the way they run the program versus a normal health care insurance program.
Mr. Jones said the bottom-line is, it's simply "a very caring group of people trying to help you."
*Originally published September 16, 2009