The first Catholic health-care sharing ministry, CMF CURO, launched in Washington, D.C., Thursday night at the Catholic Information Center, just blocks from the White House. Teaming up with veteran Samaritan Ministries International, it’s a Christian community solving some of the conscience problems that have arisen in health care in recent years. And it’s not just a response to Obamacare’s Department of Health and Human Services abortion-drug, contraceptive, and sterilization mandate, or even to Obamacare itself. It’s a response to a medical culture that increasingly is not centered on the human person and his dignity. This community model seeks to be a radically different approach to health care and insurance, fostering solidarity in prayer and practice.
Christians have always been foundational to health care in America (think of the Catholic religious sisters who have built and staffed hospitals throughout American history!), and this is an example of men and women of all vocations stepping up to the leadership plate.
In an interview with National Review Online, the co-founders of CMF CURO, David Wilson and Mike O’Dea (who is also executive director of the Christus Medicus Foundation), and director Louis Brown talk about what it is, how it works, and why it is such an important development. – Kathryn Jean Lopez
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What is CMF CURO all about?
DAVID WILSON: CMF CURO is a way of life, a way of living, a ray of light in our daily lives. It is Christ-centered Christian sharing and caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ. CMF CURO is an active witness to our Catholic faith in health care. Its mission is to offer Catholics and all Christians affordable access to Christ-centered health care. As a Catholic Living Health Care Ministry, CMF CURO provides Catholics the opportunity to come together to share each other’s medical costs and pray for each other’s medical needs, consistent with Catholic teaching. Members of CMF CURO are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and thus have access to medical care that protects their individual right of conscience and affirms the dignity of life at all stages of development.
LOPEZ: And what’s Christus Medicus?
MIKE O’DEA: The Christus Medicus Foundation is a Catholic 501(c)(3) non-profit health-care advocacy organization that I founded in 1997 to promote the active presence of Christ-centered health care that is fully faithful to the richness and beauty of Catholic teaching. Among numerous efforts over the years, we have worked actively with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on a legislative effort that led to the Health Care Conscience Rights Act being introduced in Congress in 2013. At Christus Medicus, we are not simply about observing the failures of public policy in health care. We are all about providing real answers that empower Catholics and all Christians to live our faith, truly caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Together with Samaritan Ministries International, CMF CURO is a living testament to this commitment. We are very excited to announce the launch of CMF CURO.
LOPEZ: What’s the revolution here?
WILSON: CMF CURO, together with Samaritan Ministries International (SMI), offers the first ever Catholic-based Living Health Care Ministry. CMF CURO provides Catholics with the opportunity to pay for their health care by sharing each other’s medical costs and praying for their spiritual and physical needs. It is the true Christ-centered health caring — that is a revolution. This approach to paying for health-care costs offers Catholics and all people of faith the opportunity to engage in active Christian charity, active solidarity, and active subsidiarity in health care. Instead of paying a monthly premium to an insurance company, members of CMF CURO send a monthly share directly to another member of the ministry who has a medical need.
LOPEZ: Who are Samaritan Ministries International and what is the relationship with CMF CURO?
O’DEA: Samaritan Ministries International (Samaritan or SMI) is a leading Christian health-care-sharing ministry whose 120,000 members share more than $10 million in health-care costs each month. CMF CURO is a member representative of Samaritan. Members of CMF CURO are members of the Samaritan health-care-sharing ministry. Additionally, CMF CURO members have access to a CURO VISA debit membership card to simplify the sharing process and pay for medical services. They are also provided access to health and wellness tools and to additional layers of health-care sharing.
LOPEZ: Is anyone signing up right out of the gate?
WILSON: On October 2, 2014, we begin our pre-registration period, which will last until December 14. On December 15, all those who pre-registered will have the ability to complete their registration with CMF CURO and Samaritan Ministries. Beginning January 1, 2015, CMF CURO membership will take effect. We have already received tremendous interest.
LOUIS BROWN: I should add that David officially pre-registered for CMF CURO this week and is its very first member. I’m its second.
LOPEZ: What is it about the president’s health-care law that drove the establishment of CMF CURO? What problems does it solve?
O’DEA: I would not say that the president’s health-care law drove the establishment of CMF CURO. However, the fact that the Affordable Care Act subsidizes the funding of abortion, contraceptives, and other practices that violate Catholic teaching was definitely a factor that spurred our concern that a new space was needed for Catholics to freely practice their faith in health care consistent with their conscience. This concern was only compounded when the HHS mandate was announced and we learned that the federal government sought to force religious institutions and employers to pay for contraceptives, abortifacents, and sterilizations, contrary to Catholic teaching. This represented a direct attack on our religious liberty and how we as Christians care for our families. It violated our individual right of conscience.
LOPEZ: Would this have ever come to be without Obamacare?
WILSON: Practically, the answer is no. Without the Affordable Care Act, I do not think Christians would feel the deep sense of urgency we now have to build a larger Christian health-care space that affirms the Gospel of Life and protects religious liberty.
LOPEZ: Is this an answer to the bishops’ longtime call for comprehensive health care that respects the dignity of human life?
O’DEA: It is one of many answers to the need for comprehensive health care that respect the dignity of life from conception to natural death. It is not the only answer. However, CMF CURO’s ministry witnesses to the human right for all to have access to medical care. CMF CURO establishes a Catholic community that acts in charity to help all of our brothers and sisters in Christ pay for their health-care needs. A main objective of the ministry is to advance the Gospel of Life and consequently CMF CURO members will only pay for medical services consistent with Christian Catholic teaching.
LOPEZ: Who is this for?
O’DEA: CMF CURO is for all active and practicing Catholics and Christians, but may be especially beneficial to the uninsured, independent contractors, the self-employed, and small-business owners. The ministry is also an option for individuals seeking affordable care or wanting to supplement other coverage, and employees seeking to opt out of their employer plan. I would also say that CMF CURO is an option for individuals seeking an alternative to the federally funded exchanges, and those seeking Christ-centered Medicare gap coverage. It is for all those who understand that the best, most fulfilling health care is Christ-centered health care.
LOPEZ: Why should anyone be confident in joining?
O’DEA: The rhetorical answer is: Who do I trust more, God’s contract and God’s people, or man’s contract and the insurance company? More specifically, sharing ministries have successfully proven that they are an effective alternative to secular health-care insurance. According to the Alliance for Health Care Sharing Ministries, today there are over 300,000 members of health-sharing ministries nationwide and they collectively share over $200 million in health-care costs each year. In joining CMF CURO, an individual is also a member of Samaritan, one of the nation’s most successful sharing ministries. That’s a lot of folks nationally living in faith and covenant with one another. I can trust that. I do trust God and my Christian brothers and sisters through Christ’s love for us.
For those who question whether this works, Samaritan Ministries International has proven that it does. All you need to do is speak to their members. We are now sharing our excitement that we as Catholics now can actively participate in the joy of this Christian ministry.
LOPEZ: You’re sure you’re not a pyramid scheme with Catholic cover?
WILSON: CMF CURO is simply Christian caring and Christian sharing. CMF CURO members send their monthly shares directly to other members, CMF CURO does not collect or pool any of the monthly share money. CMF CURO only collects a fee for health and wellness tools, administrative and management expenses and the CMF CURO Fund, which goes directly towards aiding the larger medical needs of CMF CURO members and advancing CMF CURO’s mission, to actively live the Gospel of Life.
LOPEZ: What does Catholic social teaching have to do with it all? And how will you ensure honesty there?
WILSON: Catholic social teaching is a key component of CMF CURO because the ministry is entirely based on the Christian faith, the Bible, and the teachings of the Catholic Church. We ensure honesty in a few different ways. The first, of course, is that our members are actively practicing their faith. Second, before the community pays for a member’s health-care need, the medical bill is submitted to the ministry. If the medical bill was for a service that violates Church teaching, the bill will be rejected by Samaritan, the health-care need will not be published, and the membership will not pay for that medical service. Third, CMF CURO, together with Samaritan, requires that members have a signed note from their pastor that they are in good standing with the Church and attend Church services at least three Sundays per month. Participating in this Catholic health-care option attracts a self-selecting group that really believe in the teachings of the Church and the authority of the Magisterium. Fourth, the CMF CURO membership card only allows for the payment of health-care providers. You cannot use the card for another purpose. We believe these factors all contribute, together, to having an honest, sincere, and faith-filled membership.
LOPEZ: What is the “fortress of protection” CMF CURO provides?
WILSON: The fortress of protection is the spiritual and monetary support that members of CMF CURO and Samaritan provide each other for their health-care and spiritual needs. The community of Christians in CMF CURO and Samaritan will pay up to $250,000 of the costs of any one medical incident for its members. It is very rare for the medical costs of one medical incident to go over $250,000. However, should the costs go above that threshold, CMF CURO members are automatically enrolled in the Samaritan Save to Share Program in which members set aside a certain amount of money each month and commit to sharing that amount of money if a member has a medical incident that costs more than $250,000 for that one incident. For the extremely rare cases where the medical costs are not fully satisfied by the Save to Share program, CMF CURO members can submit their medical needs to Samaritan to be published as a Special Prayer Request. In this layer of protection, the medical need is published to the membership of the ministry asking that they donate funds in addition to their monthly share, out of true Christian charity, to help a member who has an incredibly high medical bill. Additionally, we are developing the CMF CURO Fund, which may be available to members with medical costs that would not otherwise be satisfied by these first three levels of sharing.
LOPEZ: What does this have to do with the New Evangelization, much discussed in Catholic Church circles?
O’DEA: CMF CURO’s ministry calls Catholics to engage in active charity, solidarity, and subsidiarity by engaging a community as Christians to pay each other’s medical costs and pray for the community’s medical needs. This type of active love, active solidarity with one’s brothers and sisters, and the creation of authentic community is a profound and powerful approach. It is an active witness to the New Evangelization. So much of the New Evangelization is about witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus by praying and then going out, led by the Holy Spirit, to love and walk with each other on the journey, as a community devoted to our Lord. This is what the CMF CURO ministry is. It is true witness. It is truly living the faith each and every day, sharing and caring for our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
LOPEZ: How much of this is about contraception and abortion and sterilization? And why is that a problem, really, when we know that Catholic entities have been arranging for outside firms to provide the coverage for years . . . among other things?
O’DEA: We understand that others have made mistakes and have compromised core principles of our faith. Ours is not to judge but to live our faith actively and without fear. CMF CURO is a real answer, with real people walking the narrower, harder path all for the greater glory of God.
LOPEZ: How did you get involved with all this?
WilsoN: Our faith, the Holy Spirit, Christ’s love, and our professional lives — our vocations — have all led each of us on this incredible journey that we now can share with the whole Church in community.
LOPEZ: What excites you about it?
WILSON: It is real! CMF CURO is a new way of life in health care, a way of living — in Christian charity, serving our brothers and sisters in Christ. How fantastic is that?
LOPEZ: What most concerns you?
WILSON: Are we worthy servants of Christ? Will we do enough to make true Christ-centered care and caring a reality of Catholics everywhere? God willing, we will. We are asking Catholics to think differently about health care and we are asking them to take a step towards a model that is Christ-centered. It is a model that revolves around relationship, engagement, individual responsibility, community responsibility, Christian caring, and Christian sharing. We are trying to change health care and restore it to what is most important in health care: a relationship with God, a relationship with your health-care provider and a relationship with one another in Christ.
LOPEZ: Are you trying to provide some kind of leadership model for lay Christians?
WILSON: Yes. But there is a much deeper answer. CMF CURO is a single example of the power of vocation in community. Catholics and our brothers and sisters in Christ need to play an active role in living our faith each and every day in all we do if we are truly to witness to the world the love of Christ. We are happy to discuss this passion and the role of Catholic leaders and business people and our responsibilities to live our faith in all we do.
LOPEZ: Why did you have so many women speaking at your launch?
BROWN: I will answer that, reflecting on the reality that we are all made in God’s image of love. It just so happened that our first three speakers at the launch are Catholic women and leaders in the health care and journalism field — dedicated to their faith. I may also reflect on the “yes” of Mary. It is incredibly important that women be at the forefront of advancing the Gospel of Life and witnessing to the beauty of human dignity at all stages of development. Women leaders that witness to the Gospel of Life provide a compelling witness to the true strength, power, and true dignity of the human person and the feminine genius.
LOPEZ: What does St. Michael the Archangel have to do with any of this?
O’DEA: St. Michael, along with all the Archangels, provides an inspiring example of strength and courage for us. St. Michael stands as a strong protector of the faith, and we look to him as we take steps to protect our faith today from attacks on our religious liberty, the Culture of Life, and our Right of Conscience. It is also worth mentioning St. Michael’s fellow Archangel, St. Raphael, whose name means “God heals.” St. Raphael is the patron angel of CMF CURO. He provides a tremendous example of God’s healing power and how all of us as followers of Christ are directly responsible for the care of the least among us, those in need, and those of us who are spiritually or physically ill.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She is on the board of the Catholic Information Center and spoke at the CMF CURO launch event.