- Rev. Howard S Russell
Rev. Howard S Russell
The Rev. Howard S. Russell is president and chief executive officer of Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM), located in Barberton, Ohio. CHM is the nation’s longest-serving health care sharing ministry. CHM has tens of thousands of members in all 50 states. The ministry has the Better Business Bureau’s A-plus rating as a charity. CHM’s website is www.chministries.org.
Christian Healthcare Ministries: An Eligible Option Under the U.S. Affordable Care Act
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)—more commonly known as Obamacare—is the new national health care law. The principle of sharing health costs among Christian believers, however, is as old as the New Testament—and contemporary enough to be included in America’s new health care law.
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” Acts 4:33-35
This New Testament passage is the biblical rationale for the existence of Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM). CHM exists to glorify God and serve His people by enabling them to meet their health care costs affordably, compassionately and biblically. Our members are employing the same principle as the early Christians. They are meeting other’s needs, in this case exclusively in the area of medical bills.
This particular approach is not a new concept, as CHM today is more than 32 years old.
Our ministry works in a way that is familiar to every Christian. The membership – or congregation – makes financial gifts that are used to meet a need.
It’s the way Christians for more than 2,000 years have supported everything from church staffs and missionaries to building programs to benevolence efforts. A need exists, whether it’s to pay a pastor or help a church member who has lost a job. Money is collected and used to meet the need.
CHM works similarly. Our members each month send financial gifts to our ministry, which is then distributed to members who have medical conditions.
Our ministry is not insurance. There is no assignment of risk. There are no contracts. Our members agree to voluntarily share in meeting each other’s eligible medical bills.
Thus, CHM’s ability to serve God and our members isn’t based in legal compulsion or contractual obligation. The strength of our ministry is the faithfulness and Christian commitment of our members to each other, all of whom are meeting a critical life need as they support their fellow Christians.
CHM members are technically self-pay patients. Except they really aren’t. Each member has tens of thousands of fellow members supporting them with their financial gifts and prayers.
As technically self-pay patients, members are able to negotiate their own arrangements with health care providers. For example, one of our members who was experiencing significant chest pain spent seven hours in a hospital emergency room being tested for a possible heart attack or heart problems.
The diagnosis was pericarditis, a painful condition that was in this case treatable with high doses of ibuprofen. The bill was $8,900. As a self-pay patient our member received a 47 percent discount on his bill. CHM shared 100 percent of his remaining costs. When our member went to the cardiologist for a follow-up visit, he explained that he was a member of a health care sharing ministry and asked the cardiologist for a discount. The physician said that sounded good to him; he said his physicians’ group had six employees whose only job each day was to file insurance claims and talk to insurance companies. Instead of his normal $130 office visit, his charge to the member was $90.
This is only one example of CHM members saving on health care costs and having their needs met while they also help meet the needs of fellow Christians.
CHM meets the legal criteria under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as Obamacare) for health care sharing ministries. CHM is an eligible option under the law through which members can meet the legal requirement to have health cost support. That means ministry members need not fear penalties for not having “health insurance.”
CHM has programs that provide for health cost support for members with pre-existing conditions and health cost support for medical bills that reach $1 million per condition. Additionally, our employees regularly pray in special prayer sessions, in our weekly chapel services, and over the phone.
Once again, CHM is not an insurance company and the services we offer are not insurance coverage. Members are responsible for more of their personal health care administration. There is not a central office handling all aspects of their care incident and simply sending them a bill or a statement.
The decision to join CHM should be made with full understanding that it is not a contractual legal relationship into which you’re entering: it’s joining hands with fellow Christians and depending on them with the same faith that the early Christians demonstrated when they put their gifts at the apostles’ feet.
It’s a way of life and faith that worked 2,000 years ago. And it works today.