Townhall | Mutual Aid Societies: From Mutual Aid To Charity


In recent years an entirely new phenomenon has appeared. These are the Christian Health Care Sharing Ministries. They are certainly self-help and mutual aid, but they are nothing like the old fraternal societies. They reject any insurance model for what they do. Members do not pay premiums and they do not receive benefits. Instead, they commit to helping one another with medical expenses through voluntary direct giving.

Members with medical needs collect their itemized bills and submit them to the ministry. The ministry notifies its members that this person needs a certain amount of money to pay her medical bills. People send a check for the allocated amount directly to the person in need. Importantly, the members also pray for the one in need and send letters of encouragement. The entire process is voluntary.

There are currently four such ministries –

  1. Christian Healthcare Ministries, founded in 1982 —
  2. Liberty Health Share, founded in 1990 —
  3. Christian Care Ministry (Medi-Share) founded in 1993 —
  4. Samaritan Ministries, founded in 1994 —

People with medical needs may go to any health care provider they choose, there are no networks. And the price of the service and the payment of the bill are strictly between the doctor and the patient. The ministry does not second-guess that relationship.

While these ministries are not “fraternal associations” as defined by state and federal governments, they do share the traditional emphasis of virtuous behavior of the members, and go well beyond the traditional admonitions. The criteria for joining the Christian Care Ministry (Medi-Share) is –

Must present a written Christian testimony indicating a personal relationship with Christ, abstain from illegal drugs, tobacco use and sex outside of marriage, and must not abuse legal drugs or alcohol.

And for Samaritan Ministries —

A born-again Christian, who affirms our statement of faith, regularly attends church, abstains from or moderately uses alcohol/ drinks in careful moderation, abstains from illegal drugs, tobacco use and sex outside of marriage. A pastor must sign a statement confirming applicant’s qualifications. [xi]

The Alliance for Health Care Sharing Ministries reports that these ministries currently share more than $165 million per year among their 170,000 participants. Twenty-five states have specified that these organizations are not insurance. [xii]

People participating in these ministries are also exempt from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”). The ACA currently limits this exemption to organizations in existence since 1999, and has a very limited exception for other religious groups. Specifically, they must have also refused participation in Social Security and Medicare. This exempts the Amish, but not Muslims, even though Islam strictly forbids participation in insurance. [xiii]

Obviously, like many other provisions of the ACA, this was not well thought-through and is yet another reason the law is likely to be repealed or completely revised. Muslims, orthodox Jews, and many other believers as well as non-believers are likely to find the model of health care sharing very appealing in the future and may demand to be allowed to participate in the approach.

Read more at Mutual Aid Societies: From Mutual Aid To Charity.