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Christian health alliance provides coverage, but is it legitimate?

8:22 AM, Nov 18, 2010   |    comments
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With all the debate over health insurance the last few years, one low-cost way to pay your medical bills has been quietly expanding nationwide.

It's founded on the faith that God and your fellow man will provide.

James Lansberry heads Samaritan Ministries International, an organization that takes care of the medical bills of 15,000 Christian families and small businesses around the country.

It's not health insurance.

It's an agreement that every member makes to pay the ministry a yearly fee, and every month, to pay $320 for each other's medical bills.

Even with five children, it's worked for the Morris family.

Their biggest bill came when 7-year-old Cole broke his leg.

"He was in the hospital for two and a half days, three days, and it came to be about all together about $13,000," says Tina Morris.

The Morrises paid $300 of that and the rest, $12,700, came directly from other members.

Lansberry's office never got any money.

He used a computer program to pick the families who then sent their monthly checks directly to the Morrises.

"It wasn't just the checks," says Tina "It's kinda neat. Members sent cards as well and they'll have note on them and people would say 'I'm praying for you, I'm praying for Cole'."

Tina is the first to admit it's a matter of faith, because while it's worked there is absolutely no guarantee of payment.

"There's no certainty, no regulation, no protection," says Illinois Insurance Director Michael McRaith.

McRaith had no complaints with Samaritan Ministries, but there have been problems with other similar programs.

"As long as the participants understand those limitations it can be a worth while compliment to supplement to conventional health insurance," he says.

It's clear this isn't health insurance because paying bills this way includes a commitment to attend a Christian church and signed statements avowing members don't do drugs, use tobacco, abuse alcohol or commit adultery.

The Morrises say it's worked for them so far.

Samaritan's James Lansberry says there are both controls and oversight to prevent abuse.

He says in the 14 years he's been there members have been able to cover all bills up to at least $250,000.

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