Christian Health Care Group Has Morality Litmus Test

Based on Biblical teachings and a lifestyle that rejects junk food and immorality, one evangelical ministry is helping to subsidize health care costs for like-minded Christians. But don't mistake Christian Care Ministry's Medi-Share program for an insurance plan. It's a self-described Christian "fellowship."

The Medi-Share program is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization whose 45,000 members make monthly payments to help cover the medical expenses of fellow members.

As a private organization, Medi-Share can legally select and reject any application based on religion, sexual orientation, addiction and even obesity, said Joe Foreman, a regional elder for the group.

Foreman said 80 percent of "secular" health insurance claims are lifestyle-related and account for the nation's skyrocketing health care costs. He faults non-Christians for not taking care of their bodies as directed by the Bible.

"The average person believes preventative care means going to the doctor once a year to have a complete checkup to find out how badly they killed themselves off by their wrong lifestyle last year," Foreman said. Medi-Share members, he said, take an active role in maintaining their health through diet, exercise and religion.

Alternative Therapy

According to Foreman, the Medi-Share program is a "little bit contrarian to the medical establishment."

While heart bypass surgery typically costs health care insurers $35,000-$95,000, Foreman said Medi-Share can "cure" the cardiac patients for less than $6,000 without the invasive surgery.

"We do pay for a heart bypass, but not very many of them are done in our group," Foreman said. "Our people know that there's a better way to do it."

Medi-Share offers its less expensive "alternative" to open-heart surgery at one of its ten Christian-owned "lifestyle nutrition" centers across the country.

Foreman said Medi-Share will "take a guy who's a heart attack waiting to happen" and completely restructure his lifestyle and eating habits. Christian doctors place cardiac patients on a total vegetarian diet, he said, while exercise physiologists supervise their physical rehabilitation.

Even the patients' spouses participate in the rehabilitation process, Foreman said. "The wife takes the cooking classes so that she can learn to save her husband's life through the kitchen."

Medi-Share does back away from more serious illnesses and procedures. The group protects itself from medical bills ranging from $50,000 to $5 million through the services of an "outside re-insurer."

"If a couple of spinal chord injuries came along at $3 million apiece, that could dent the thing pretty bad," Foreman said. He said the outside insurer protects members from any temporary increases in their monthly "contribution" rate.

Foreman believes any fluctuation in rates is not good for members' psychological well-being because it makes them worry.

However, according to the Commonwealth of Kentucky's Department of Insurance (DOI), Medi-Share's members have reason to worry.

The 'Crowbar' of Regulation

"They claim in their statement on the website that they are not insurance and that they do not guarantee that claims will be paid," said Stephan Taylor, a staff attorney for the DOI. "That is definitely a concern on the part of the department."

Taylor said Medi-Share is violating the state's insurance code because it is conducting itself as an unauthorized insurer. And, he said, "It doesn't meet any of the exemptions to regulation by the department."

"Medi-Share claims it's a non-profit organization and therefore is not regulated by any government agency," Taylor said. "They say that it's not insurance."

But Kentucky law, he said, requires that any entity wishing to establish itself as an insurance provider must submit itself to regulatory oversight by the DOI, which the non-profit Medi-Share does not do.

Taylor said Medi-Share's business conduct in the commonwealth "meets the definitions of unauthorized insurance business" because it involves members paying a monthly amount to receive coverage.

He claims the DOI is just trying to "make sure that a company or an entity that says it can pay claims will, in fact, be able to ... do what it says it will do."

The DOI is currently pursuing legal action against Medi-Share with the expectation that the group will either submit itself to government oversight or cease to do business in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

But Foreman said any attempt by Kentucky to "crowbar" Medi-Share into operating under the same state regulations that govern insurance companies would be detrimental to the group's Christian beliefs and identity because Medi-Share would have to adopt a non-discrimination policy.

"We would have to take homosexuals; we would have to pay for AIDS claims, drug rehab, alcohol rehab and all of these other lifestyle abuses," Foreman said. "We would no longer be what we are."