Christian co-op shares health costs

    Co-op members learn to negotiate lower medical bills.

    Members of a North Philadelphia Christian group say they’re participating in a novel program to share health costs. Participants say the idea might work on a larger scale and they want health policymakers to take notice.

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    The Christian Healthcare Ministries is a non-profit based in Ohio with more than 20,000 participants nationwide. Membership is limited to Christians who pledge not to smoke, but no one is rejected because of a pre-existing health condition. Philadelphia resident Chris Lahr contributes $150 to the network each month and is responsible for the first $500 in health expenses each year.

    Lahr: Each month or so, you know, we get little cards that give us little updates on different people, they’ll say: ‘Hey pray for so and so.’ I think that’s cool, it’s not just foreign out there. There’s people out there your money is going to, to contribute and help out.

    Members are encouraged to negotiate lower bills with their doctor, after that, they can draw from the network pool to pay medical bills. The head of the network says the plan works because more than 90 percent of contributions go directly to medical costs.

    Lahr and his wife joined about three months ago.

    Lahr: Part of the reason why it’s taken so long for us to join it is: One, my wife is a nurse, and more than that, her dad is a doctor. So they’re like: ‘Nah you need real insurance.’ Then eventually we’ve been able to say: ‘Alright, we’ve seen enough people in it.’ It just seems like a good way of doing health care.

    Members say the cost-sharing idea could work with other affinity groups.

    Executive director Howard Russell explains how the contributions work:

    Russell: If you were a gold member you would say: ‘I’ll be responsible for the first $500 per year’ and then anything above that — around an illness or diagnosis — that gets shared through our members.

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