It’s the day after Christmas and amidst the cheery family Christmas photos showing up on my social media feed, a post catches my eye. A friend of a friend was diagnosed with aggressive cancer the day before Christmas. Clicking to read more, I found out that the man has a family, struggled with some financial setbacks the previous year and is working on some projects that he now will have trouble completing. The family could clearly use some prayers and some financial assistance as the father’s surgery date approaches; thinking for a moment, I choose an amount, say a prayer and donate.
This model of giving, made popular by sites such as “GoFundMe,” has become an increasingly popular way for friends and wider communities to offer support to those facing medical difficulties. The financial burden rests on the individual or family suffering, but many choose to help alleviate their load. It is but one way to respond to a question by the Holy Father this Christmas: “Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us…?”
In recent years, due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, discussions about Catholics receiving and providing health care has centered around the crucial issue of religious freedom. Can the government force people to act against their consciences? What is the right course of action for Catholics faced with either violating the law (and paying outrageous fines) or violating their consciences?
However, religious liberty is not the only aspect of healthcare costs worth considering in the light of our Catholic faith.
Impersonal decisions made by insurance companies, elevated prices at medical facilities, complex regulations about in-network providers, copays and deductibles—it all seems far removed from the Acts of the Apostles wherein,
There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need (Acts 4:34-35).
The dichotomy between the way in which healthcare costs are covered today and the outpouring of love and support seen so often through online campaigns such as the one described above, seem hard to reconcile. Is it possible to engage in a healthcare system that is more consistent with the Gospel message of true charity and Pope Francis’s repeated insistence on tenderness?
One Catholic non-profit is attempting to implement just such a form of healthcare. “Curo”, run by the Christus Medicus Foundation, is beginning to offer a healthcare sharing ministry on January 1, 2015. Curo follows the model of Samaritan, a Protestant group that has been coordinating healthcare sharing since 1994.
The basic concept of Samaritan Ministries is that each member or family enrolled in these ministries takes responsibility for their own medical costs/needs. This includes annual well-visits, prescriptions and other medical visits and supplies. Members also agree to attend Church regularly as well as to abstain from drug abuse and excessive alcohol consumption and tobacco use.
Once a cost for a particular need exceeds $300, however, the member submits the need to the central office. The need (whether it be $100 or $25,000 dollars) is then shared with the community of members. Each month, members are designated one of the “shared needs” and they send money to the person in need. The money is often accompanied by well wishes and assurances of prayers. While this is not technically considered health insurance by the government, members are not legally required to have additional insurance.
Not only does the system seem simpler and more attune with Christian community and charity, at least comparing my own family’s healthcare costs, the costs are less as well.
Curo, of course, is still signing up members so its success is yet to be seen. Protestant ministries such as Samaritan and also Christian Healthcare Ministries, however, have received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Members not only report their healthcare costs being covered, but also gratitude for the community that has supported them in difficult times and thanks for prayers received.
Could this sort of system be feasible on a larger scale? There certainly are some risks that may make people uncomfortable: the largest of which is that neither the health care ministry nor the individual members are in any way legally bound to cover your healthcare costs. People may get dropped as members if they don’t fulfill their obligations, but you do not have the option to press legal charges on the off chance that this happens (though the ministries will usually then try to have other members provide for your need). Additionally, paying medical expenses up to $300 has its own challenges for those without ready cash or the means to effectively save for these occasions as they arise.
While not without their challenges, initiatives such as Curo seem like a viable option for healthcare consistent with Christian values. These ministries seem to demonstrate that solutions other than the current healthcare system are feasible choices for Catholics.
Pope Francis underlined his call for tenderness, asking, “do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today!” Whether it be online campaigns with personal pleas for Christian charity or grassroots health care sharing ministry, it is heartening to see people taking seriously the call to unite as a Body of Christ and support those in need.
Editor’s note: The image above titled “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” was painted by Jan Wynants in 1670.