(Originally published on Aleteia.org, October 3, 2018)
“Every single time I had to make one of those phone calls, my heart was pounding, I was shaking… Insurance gave up on us… they just didn’t want to pay for it.”
It had been eight months since Kellie Soper lost her baby just before birth. She and her husband had hit a brick wall with the insurance company. Kellie was forced to relive an incredibly difficult experience as she fought to get the hospital bills paid.
Not wanting to have to deal with such impersonal treatment again, the Sopers turned to Solidarity HealthShare, finding that Solidarity’s staff took the time to personally guide them every step of the way. It was an experience that differed dramatically from dealing with a large insurance company.
“When you look at how Solidarity works, what it really is like, families all contributing and then the money going to whoever needs it at the time… that’s biblical. That’s how it was meant to be,” says Soper.
A Community Responds to the Needs of Others
“That’s how our community responds,” said Chris Faddis, cofounder of Solidarity HealthShare. “Solidarity is a community acting for one another, and it works very well. Families of course have to work through the practical aspects of health care, but it shouldn’t be a battle to do so.”
Faddis knows well how important community is in addressing what can be a crushing burden of health care expenses. In 2012, he endured a terrible trial of losing his wife, mother of their two young children, to cancer. “Given what we went through, and how our community stepped up heroically to help us pay for Angela’s treatments, we knew we wanted such help to be available to more people.”
Through an online fundraising site, the Faddises were able to raise enough money to pay for the few treatments available to late-stage cancer patients. Though the treatments would ultimately not save Angela’s life, they did allow the family to build memories for seventeen months and prepare to say goodbye.
“That was the terrible paradox. We were mourning the loss of Angela, and things were bleak. Yet there was this ray of light – we were profoundly grateful to the many friends and even strangers who gave so generously,” said Faddis. “It was a truly overwhelming but grace-filled time. How the community responded was inspiring to us in their presence, their sacrifice, and their prayer. We were determined to make this kind of sharing available to more people who were faced with bills that they can’t pay by themselves.
A Mission Becomes Clear
At approximately the same time, Bradley Hahn, an attorney trained in bioethics and end-of-life issues, was meeting with other Catholics in Phoenix who were concerned about the direction of the insurance industry following the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The federal government’s use of the law to force Catholics and other Christians to violate their consciences by paying for abortifacient drugs and contraception was particularly alarming.
“Basically, we saw how an appeal for health insurance coverage for the poor—which many across the political spectrum were ready to support—was manipulated into forcing Christians through insurance companies to pay for abortion, contraception, and other morally evil things,” said Hahn. “We decided to put less faith in politics and traditional insurance, and to find a way to better provide for one another.”
Hahn and Faddis organized a group of leaders to look at options available to Catholics who wanted to respond in a positive way to what seemed like an untenable situation for many families.
“So we began with a primary focus on protecting the well-formed consciences of Catholics,” said Hahn. “With Chris and Angela’s experience, we saw the basic Christian principle of solidarity in action—a community bonding together for the common good. This was our framework as we looked for options for Catholic families.”
“We all knew that there was no way that this massive government structure was going to make health care more affordable for families,” added Faddis. “So, we had an additional goal—to save our community money on health costs.”
Christians Working Together
The group discovered that some Christian communities had for decades been sharing medical expenses. One such community—a small Mennonite community in Northern Ohio—seemed to have a very effective model, one which qualified for the religious exemption under the ACA. Hahn and Faddis approached the elders of the Melita community: “We were moved by their generosity, and the similarity of our concerns on moral issues in health care,” says Faddis. “Soon after the meeting, the elders contacted us and said that they wanted to help Catholics achieve the same protection under the law that they enjoyed. We were so incredibly humbled and grateful! We were also excited about the chance for Catholics and Mennonites to collaborate based on a shared conviction on moral truths. That’s when the work really began.”
After two years of development and restructuring, what started as Melita Christian Fellowship Hospital Aid Plan, a small health care sharing ministry of a local church, was relaunched as a national outreach to Christians and Catholics under the tradename, Solidarity HealthShare. Now an independent ministry, separate from the local church, Melita’s members continue to be sharing members of Solidarity HealthShare – maintaining this innovative and ecumenical partnership as it continues to flourish under the current law.
“That was two years ago, and we now have over 5,000 families in our membership, with hundreds more joining every month,” said Faddis. “We have a dedicated financial sharing system that transfers money among members who submit sharing requests. The same system allows members to send notes of prayer and encouragement to one another, all while protecting each member’s privacy.”
Since Solidarity announced during the recent 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae that members would share expenses related to fertility awareness-based methods of natural family planning, as well as sterilization reversals, and Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro Technology), interest in Solidarity’s mission has increased.
“I think that people who see our principles and guidelines start to realize how different our mission is from a traditional insurance company,” said Faddis. “We operate on a fundamentally different moral and structural basis, though we fulfill a similar need for folks who need help with funding health care costs.”
The Word Gets Out
Popular Catholic radio show host and author Patrick Madrid chose Solidarity HealthShare for himself and his family after struggling under increasing premiums for their traditional insurance company. Though he was attracted by Solidarity’s commitment to Catholic principles and community-based model, Madrid says that when he saw the monthly sharing amount that Solidarity families pay, “that alone was enough to get our attention.” He added, “It’s such a great opportunity for Catholics to be able to go in a direction where their Christian moral principles are respected and not deemed to be a violation. The financial benefit is always a good one, but just for the level of the soul and one’s integrity… that really impressed me a lot.”
Conscience is a major factor for the Madrid family, and for many others, when weighing their healthcare options. The ACA’s requirement that plans pay for contraception and sterilization was offensive to faithful Catholics and many other people of faith. But there are many other areas of medical ethics – from dealing with unborn children diagnosed with disabilities to facing issues of end-of-life care – that drive families to seek care that does not compromise their moral values.
A Simple but Daunting Task
“Basically, we have two goals for Solidarity,” said Faddis. “The first is to grow a community that supports one another, that has excellent health and customer care, and that allows our members to save money and live in harmony with their faith and values.”
“For the second goal, I just want you to picture this,” said Faddis, excitedly. “Solidarity’s members are already starting to support Catholic and other Christian providers who practice excellent and morally sound medicine. Imagine what happens when we have 100,000 members, or 200,000, or half a million. When that many people are demanding excellent and morally sound health care, we have a real opportunity to restore and rebuild an authentic Catholic health care system. We are going to make it so that it is a good business decision for Catholic providers to fully support the moral and social doctrine of the Church in policy and practice.”
“Just imagine what that looks like! That is why we are trying to get better every day, why we pray for our members like the Soper family as a team, and for our mission. It is why we exist as an organization and a community. We can make this happen, so when these religious freedom debates occur in Washington or in states around the country, they know that there is a force for good with which they have to contend, and it is based in solidarity and community rather than profit and utility.”