Christian based healthcare alternatives to Obamacare

Christian based healthcare alternatives to Obamacare

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By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Next week is the deadline for most people who qualify to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. But alternatives exist to either traditional insurance or the plans offered through the health insurance exchange.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans participate in Christian healthcare sharing ministries across the country.

Sarah Lewis is self employed and for years paying for health insurance was a financial burden.

"My husband and I own our own business and the cost of insurance was so high and they kept raising it. So we started looking for other options," said Lewis, 31.

Four years ago she and her husband turned to Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM), a faith-based voluntary sharing organization.

"Once we realized how much cheaper it was going to be, just the thought of being able to share the needs for funds was really cool idea," said Lewis.

Depending on the plan, participants pay between $45 and $150 a month and in return CHM pays for most major medical costs, including Lewis' pregnancy.

"I had to send in to CHM basically the bill for my maternity and then they take that bill and they process it and they send me the funds for it and then I'm able to pay the provider for it," explained Lewis. 

We sat down with 6News healthcare expert Craig Griffith to find out what you need to know when looking into these types of ministries.

"The pool of insurance is much smaller than ETNA or Humana, that have millions and millions of people enrolled, the pool is much bigger. So they have to be careful, be good stewards of the money to make sure they can pay for those catastrophic or high cost procedures," explained Griffith.

CHM and other Christian-based healthcare sharing ministries are an acceptable option under the Affordable Care Act.

But Griffith says you have to take a deep look at the plan to ensure it offers the coverage you need.

"Make sure it covers what you need to covered, which is standard when you're getting any taped of insurance," explained Griffith. 

The CEO of CHM is Rev. Howard Russell. He went to the University of Tennessee and pa stored in Knoxville for two decades. Rev. Russell says they've seen an increase in membership over the last two years which they believe is because of ACA.

The ministry is Christian based and asks members to pledge to live a Christian lifestyle. According to the web site, qualifications to joins include living by biblical principles, abstaining from smoking and drugs and attending a regular group worship.

"We find people take care of themselves when they have a connection to the organization," said Rev. Russell in a phone interview.

But he said the qualifications are based on an honor system.

"We don't the ability or the desire to police our members," he explained.

Lewis says in addition to the low cost of the program she appreciates the faith-based elements.

"Everyone is able to take from that pool to meet their need but they also send out little prayer requests for additional needs so if you want to give in that regard as well," she explained. 

CHM does not cover routine doctor visits or prescription, but instead covers the major medical costs such as hospital visits, surgery, incident-related doctor's visits and maternity care, depending on your plan.

Rev. Russell also explained the organization does not cover costs that would be associated with preventing or terminating life.

For Lewis and her family, the plan agrees with their wallet and their faith.

"I like the community of it, that we're coming together," she said. "We don't worry much about [the things not covered], we're young, we're healthy. Thank the Lord."

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