Benefits of a Health Care Sharing Ministry
For the past six years, Bayview Baptist Church in Washington, Illinois, has been able to increase benefits for its employees by providing for its staffers’ medical needs through Samaritan Ministries International.
Just before the church decided to make the switch to Samaritan, the church’s typical health insurance policy for a family ran about $1,200 a month.
Since joining Samaritan in 2004, though, Bayview and Illinois Central Christian School, which is connected to the church, have saved so much on health care that the institutions have been able to add their own benefits, such as optical and dental care (including orthodontics), as well as prescription medication.
“We took the original budget and what we saved, we put into the self-funded programs,” said Pastor Thibo. “We did not cut our budget. We increased our benefits.”
Dozens of other churches and ministries across the nation have been able to improve their benefits through Samaritan Ministries, a health care sharing organization based in Peoria, Illinois, www.samaritanministries.org. Bayview Baptist helps about 18 staffers’ households. Another church and its associated college in Indiana serve more than 360 employees’ households through Samaritan.
Overall, Samaritan has more than 14,700 member households. Members live in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, several U.S. territories, and, in the case of U.S.-based missionaries, even overseas.
Pastor James McDonald V of Providence Church in Morton, Illinois, said he and his family were sold on Samaritan a long time ago because being involved in health care sharing ministries is “part of being Christians. It’s fulfilling the law of Christ.”
“If it wasn’t for Samaritan, we would still seek to have some sort of alternative health care assistance,” Pastor McDonald said. “Health insurance is not something that is exciting to us. Lifestyle issues are something important for us as Christians to keep in mind as we seek to take care of our health care needs. Health insurance companies’ first priority is profit, seeking to maximize their own return.”
One national ministry turned to Samaritan to keep from sinking financially.
“I was very concerned for our staff, who already work sacrificially for the ministry, that they wouldn’t have adequate health care for themselves and their families,” said Gary Bates, chief executive officer of Creation Ministries International-US. “One of the first things I did when I came here (from Australia) was say, ‘This can’t go on, it’ll sink us.’ In effect, health care costs would have driven us under.”
Churches and ministries can save money. The basic monthly share amount for a Samaritan family has never exceeded $320 as of June 2010. In fact, until members recently voted to raise the monthly share, the family amount was at $285 for more than two years. That is significantly lower than health insurance premiums. Shares are sent directly from one member to another, keeping administrative costs low.
Health care sharing ministries members are exempt from the individual mandate in the new health care law. That means they won’t be required to purchase health insurance that might cause financial hardship or force them to compromise their biblical principles.
Members know they are helping fellow Christians in need. Scriptures that drive Samaritan include Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Samaritan members also are asked to pray for those whose burdens they’re relieving and to send a note of encouragement. One of the ministry’s maxims is, “Send a note, pay your share, always stay alert in prayer.”
The old and young get discounts. The monthly share is reduced for young adults and students at Christian colleges, as well as for members ages 65 and older.
How It Works
A member who has a medical need is asked to send the bills to the SMI offices along with a completed Need Processing Form that explains the need. At SMI, the Member Services specialist assigned to that member verifies the information and prepares the need for publication. When the need is published, a checklist of the members who have been assigned to share in the need is sent to the receiving household so that the SMI staff can keep track of the sharing.
Finally, there are spiritual benefits as well.
“In my own personal case, sending a share to another member means that I have prayed for a need for somebody that I do not know and yet I understand that they are fellow Christian brothers and sisters out there somewhere,” Pastor Thibo said. “It’s a mutual spiritual commitment.”