The first Catholic health care sharing ministry in the U.S. will promote the “Gospel of Life” in health care, leaders announced at the ministry’s Oct. 2 launch in Washington, D.C. Louis Brown, director of the new CMF CURO ministry, said that it will enable “Catholics to actively practice their faith, utilize affordable access to health care for themselves and their families, protect religious liberty and the individual right of conscience, and most importantly affirm the Gospel of life.” CMF CURO is a partnership between the Christian health care sharing group Samaritan Ministries International and the Catholic health care non-profit Christ Medicus Foundation. Unlike the standard procedure for a health insurance policy, members of the health care sharing ministry do not pay monthly premiums and deductibles for their health care, Instead, they cover each other’s health care costs through monthly share payments made directly to those in need. The health sharing ministry also abides by Catholic social teaching, which means that no payments will cover practices that violate Church teaching, such as contraception or abortion. “We want to make sure that Catholics can practice their faith in health care,” Brown said. CMF CURO is exempt from controversial federal regulations requiring insurance policies to cover contraception and related products. Its members are also exempt from the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which requires individuals to purchase insurance plans. The law allows health care sharing groups created before 1999 to continue operating as insurance alternatives. Samaritan Ministrires was founded in 1991. Under the health care sharing ministry, monthly share payments are made directly to those in need. Members are responsible for three of their own annual health care costs under $300, which includes preventative care and routine check-ups. When an individual or family encounters a more expensive health care costs, other members are notified and invited to make a payment directly to them. The share payment may come with a personal note and prayers from the community, a Christian touch the speakers said helps distinguish the ministry from the private insurance market. In addition, if costs exceed $250,000, members can draw from the SMI Save to Share program, where enrollees can pay extra into a pool for high-cost needs. Generally speaking, however, the costs of health sharing are lower than normal health insurance, CMF CURO co-founder David Wilson said. “The truth is that 80 percent of the cost in health care is driven by lifestyle,” he said, claiming that churchgoing Christians are seen as more responsible about their personal health than others because they take stewardship of their bodies and their health. Non-Catholics are also eligible to participate in the ministry. Among the requirements for eligibility are regular church attendance — which is confirmed by a prospective member’s pastor — and a promise to “abstain from sinful practices such as drug abuse and sexual immorality.” Wilson said that among those most interested in the ministry may be the uninsured, individual contractors, small business owners, and those wishing to opt out of the health care law’s state exchanges. When asked how the ministry will deal with the rising costs of health care, Samaritan Ministries membership director Anthony Hopp acknowledged the ministry is “not immune” to the rising costs, but the increases “that we’ve seen have been modest and fewer compared to what happens with insurance.” All members vote on whether or not to raise the monthly share amounts after three consecutive months in which there are “more medical needs presented than shares available.” In addition, the amount shared may be lessened if necessary, to the point a member in need receives 80 percent of the coverage instead of the normal 100 percent. The health sharing ministry is part of the “new evangelization” because members are caring for each other’s needs in addition to their own, leaders said, explaining that prayer and Christian community makes up a fundamental part of the ministry. “CURO empowers Catholic Christian charity. It is a witness to the New Evangelization. It fosters authentic Christian community, and it is not insurance, but is rather Christian caring, Christian charity, Christian sharing with your brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Brown. Wilson called it “the ‘yes’ of Mary.” “It is a reality that allows the Christians in the Catholic community, Catholics, to say I want to participate in an authentically Catholic-sharing ministry for my health care expenses and the needs of my family.”
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