By Patricia O’Connell
In the near future, Christine Schroeder of Massachusetts will receive monthly letters, asking her to help someone in need of medical care.
First, she plans to pray for them. She’ll also send them an uplifting note. Then, she’ll write a personal check to cover a portion of their treatment costs. This money is considered her “share,” in the CMF-CURO plan, a new Catholic health system she recently joined, which is being offered as an alternative to traditional insurance.
Fortunately, Mrs. Schroeder is in good health. But, if she did need coverage, above and beyond a minimum threshold of $300 per incident, the other members CMF-CURO would foot the bill.
CMF-CURO is part of Christ Medicus, an organization founded in 1999, as a Catholic healthcare ministry. In January, it partnered with Samaritan Ministries International, in order to offer health sharing to Catholics. Samaritan is exempt from the individual mandate of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, so its members can elect to enroll in health sharing, and they won’t pay a penalty for not having medical coverage.
The CMF-CURO Catholic network, because of its partnership with Samaritan, is now exempt from this mandate as well. Consequently, it’s able to offer a health plan consistent with Catholic teaching. For instance, abortion, contraceptive care and sterilization would not be covered, under any circumstances. However, these are also things its members probably won’t be requesting.
In order to join, someone must be a Catholic in good standing and have a document signed by their pastor. Midway through their membership year, they also need to send in a “renewal sheet” signed by a priest or a church leader, said CURO spokesperson Kate Allwein.
On the Christ Medicus website, it is clearly stated that prospective members must also agree to refrain from smoking and avoid alcohol, aside from the occasional social drink. They must live chaste lives and not use street drugs.
There are some other restrictions as well. Pre-existing conditions are not “shared” or “published,” which means that Mrs. Schroeder, and other network members, don’t receive letters asking for contributions. Routine checkups are also not eligible for this “sharing,” according to Mrs. Schroeder.
Once someone joins the network, they are also “accountable to a pastor or a church leader” for submitted health care needs, according to the CMF-CURO website. But Mrs. Allwein said this doesn’t mean pastors must review and approve each medical need.
Instead of sending the monthly enrollment fee to CMF-CURO, Mrs. Schroeder and other members, send their shares directly to the person in need. However, the first three monthly payment cycles are sent to Samaritan Ministries.
There is a cap of $250,000 on “shareable” medical needs. However, there is a special program called Save to Share. Individual members agree to set aside a nominal amount every year, in case it’s needed by someone else. This also limits each member’s personal risk, because, they’d also receive help if catastrophic medical needs arose.
There is also a Special Prayer Need fund for situations not covered by either the regular plan, or Save to Share. These are determined on a case-to-case basis, by Samaritan Ministries, as to whether they’re published for members to see. If someone desires, they can donate to this fund, by giving more than their regular monthly share amount of $264 for a single person over the age of 25, or $444 for a married couple. In addition to this monthly share fee, newcomers to CURO pay a one-time fee of $200.
All members are enrolled in the Samaritan Ministries sharing network. But the CURO Catholic component offers additional services. For instance, members are encouraged to participate in a monthly conference call. There’s also an online member health assessment.
Although CMF-CURO, with 387 members, is brand new, and there are limits to coverage, Mrs. Schroeder doesn’t believe she’s taking a financial risk, because of the larger and more established Samaritan network, along with the fact that she participates in Save to Share.
The CMF-CURO website does point out that “if all of the needs of the membership cannot be met in a specific month, a prorating method is used to evenly distribute the burden. For example, if there is only 90 percent of the needs submitted for a particular month, only 90 percent of each need would be published in the newsletter each month.”
So far, the plan has saved Mrs. Schroeder money, as it’s less expensive than the Massachusets state-run insurance plan in which she was previously enrolled.
She does acknowledge, though, that CMF-CURO has limits, such as the $300 out-of-pocket costs for each incident. However, if a family incurs more than three “shareable needs in one year,” those additional incidents would be fully funded, including the first $300.
Tests such as mammograms are not covered, nor are certain other things that fall outside of the sharing plan. However, Mrs. Schroeder noted that many providers have different rates for self-pay patients. Consumers can find out about these discounts if they speak with the billing department, she explained.
Mrs. Schroeder pointed out that, unlike managed care plans, CMF-CURO allows you to choose your own providers. You also don’t need referrals, and, from her reading of the member benefits, some forms of alternative healthcare may be covered, although the $300 out-of-pocket charges would still apply, and you’d need prior written approval.
One downside of health sharing, she noted, is that she feels more reluctant to undergo any test that’s not absolutely necessary, as she knows other members will be paying for it. For this reason, she decided to forego a blood test to measure her levels of Vitamin D.
“When I found out the cost of the test, I said, ‘I’m not doing it,” she said.
Because she has just joined the network, Mrs. Schroeder hasn’t received notice of anyone she needs to help. But this will happen soon, once the three-month introductory period elapses.
However, she’s ready for when the first letter arrives. “When I do (get a letter) I’m looking forward to it. I bought a pack of note paper,” she said. “I bought some nice note cards.” Along with the checks that others send, the people in need “get a shower of notes,” she added.
Mrs. Schroeder also believes such a system is in keeping with the long-standing tradition of a Christian community. “It’s so much more of being in the life of the Church in fellowship with other people,” she said.
The Christ Medicus foundation is based in Livonia, Michigan and was started by David Wilson and Mike O’Dea. Mrs. Allwein said it stands on three pillars. One is to protect religious liberty. Christ Medicus was one of the sponsors of HR 940, otherwise known as the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.
A second part of its mission, through the CMS-CURO health sharing, is to offer Catholics an alternative to traditional insurance.
“We just wanted to bring this to the Catholic population,” Mrs. Allwein noted. “It takes the place of traditional health insurance individual mandates, so you won’t be fined.”
The third goal, she noted, is to create a network of primary healthcare facilities that are completely Catholic in orientation.
Mrs. Allwein said the ministry is under the authority of Archbishop Allen Vigneron. Although it’s likely the Catholic membership will grow, she explained that CMF-CURO must stay connected to Samaritan Ministries because that organization is exempt from the individual mandate.
Right now, Mrs. Allwein said this program offers a viable option for the self employed, who must purchase their own insurance.
Founder Mike O’Dea pointed out that it’s much more economical, and also spiritually based. “It’s all part of the new evangelization,” he added.
– For more information on CMF-CURO, contact Kate Allwein at email@example.com or 614-940-4652.