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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Here's another twist on the high cost of health care. Several evangelical Christian groups have found a way of getting around that high cost of health insurance. Instead of paying premiums, they simply agree to pay each other's medical bills. And members take, on faith, the promise that others will help them. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.
JEFF BRADY: Samaritan Ministries' vice president, James Lansberry, is constantly on the radio and traveling around, talking about his organization these days. Here he is at a church outside Denver.
JAMES LANSBERRY: And if you're like most Americans, you have some form of health insurance. If you're like a few of us, who are part of Samaritan Ministries, you have something that's better than health insurance.
BRADY: There's an annual fee that covers Samaritan's administrative costs. Lansberry says the nonprofit group compiles members' health care bills, then tells its 14,000 households where to send their monthly checks.
LANSBERRY: The money doesn't get received at our central office - it goes directly from one family to another. So each month I send my monthly share of $285 directly to another family.
BRADY: Out in the church lobby, Carl Bobb says he's been using Samaritan for six years. He says getting his medical bills paid is relatively easy.
CARL BOBB: When we have, you know, a payment due on something, we'll pay what the minimum is if they'd like us to pay that day. We submit it to Samaritans. And within 30 days we get our claims processed through Samaritans and checks start coming in from folks.
BRADY: Nearby, Chris and Mary Miller from Oakland, Illinois, just emerged from the Samaritan Ministries' presentation. They're self-employed farmers and now they're thinking about giving up their current health insurance.
CHRIS MILLER: Because we spend around $15,000 a year on health care premiums.
BRADY: In addition to saving money, Mary Miller says she likes that Samaritan promises that no money will ever be used to pay for an abortion. And she says she's not worried about giving up the security of traditional insurance.
MARY MILLER: Being a Christian means walking by faith. And we believe that God is ultimately in control of everything, and that things work best when you go his way.
BRADY: Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Joel Ario, says that's something people should carefully consider before signing up.
JOEL ARIO: Because the insurance product is a legal obligation of the insurance company, that will be there, even if the claims you have turn out to be very large in nature
BRADY: Jeff Brady, NPR News.
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