Health sharing ministries offer a religious alternative to reform

People who disagree with health reform's mandate to purchase health insurance have another option for healthcare--sharing ministries--reports Stateline. The reform law exempts people from having to pay for conventional health insurance if they belong to a healthcare sharing ministry.

These faith-based alternatives to health insurance collect monthly contributions and distribute them to pay medical bills. Nationwide, about 100,000 people are part of these organizations.

Ministry members exchange more than $60 million annually to help one another cover healthcare costs, notes the Dallas Morning News. To qualify, members must share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs, and agree to lifestyle requirements such no smoking and moderate drinking.

Christian Care Ministry senses opportunity among religious opponents to reform, estimating 11 million Christians are not covered by an employer's insurance plan. "Our efforts are focused on getting the word out to people that there is an alternative for Christians to Obamacare," President Robert Baldwin told Stateline.

The reform law says the sharing ministry must be registered as a nonprofit and have existed since Dec. 31, 1999. Yet some state insurance commissioners say these unlicensed organizations function like insurance companies and advise consumers to do some research before joining.

''Our concern is that families will participate believing that they're purchasing health insurance when in fact what they're purchasing is little more than an aspiration," Michael McRaith, director of the Illinois Department of Insurance, told Stateline.

The nation's top three sharing ministries are Christian Care Ministry in Melbourne, Fla., Christian Healthcare Ministries in Barberton, Ohio, and Samaritan Ministries International in Peoria, Ill.

Legislation regarding sharing ministry regulation will be discussed this year in at least seven states--Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Montana, North Carolina and South Carolina.

For more:
- read the Stateline article
- check out the Dallas Morning News article