Faith-Based Health Care for Evangelicals

Christian health plans are inexpensive, but don't guarantee coverage.

ByABC News
September 28, 2009, 5:59 PM

Sept. 28, 2009— -- Thousands of Evangelical Christians are turning to faith-based alternatives to health insurance. These plans work, in some ways, like regular insurance -- there are monthly payments and deductibles. They're much cheaper than most insurance plans.

But some say they're taking advantage of the faithful.

When Scott and Rachel Kramer, gospel music makers from outside Peoria, Ill., discovered that their son, Weston, had autism, they spent $30,000 on early-intervention therapy.

All of it was paid for by strangers -- fellow Christians who sent checks, cards and prayers.

"Sometimes it was just a simple note saying even though we don't know you, we want you to know that we are thinking of you and we are certainly going to pray for your son," said Rachel Kramer.

The Kramers belong to something called Samaritan Ministries, one of three large Christian health plans, where members cover each other's major medical bills. There are estimated to be more than 100,000 evangelical members of these plans nationwide.

"I find it to be a more superior model than what the health insurance industry does because it's personal," said James Landsberry of Samaritan Ministries. "We have a community of people. We're taking care of one another."

To join, you have to be a church-going evangelical who promises not to smoke, drink heavily or have extramarital sex.

But there's a catch. There are no guarantees that your medical bills will be paid, because these Christian plans are not technically insurance and therefore are not regulated by the government.

"You're exactly taking it on faith, and that's why I don't believe this is for everyone," said Landsberry.

"When they are paying for these programs, there are no guarantees that a claim will be paid. There is no certainty or protection for the consumer," said Michael Mcraith, director of the Illinois Department of Insurance. "Faith alone will not solve the problem."