Basically, these are voluntary cooperatives in which members (typically of a shared religious affiliation) agree to help cover each others' medical costs in case one of them gets sick. The details vary from group to group, but overall:
In these ministries, members pay a monthly fee that gets dispersed to a member who needs help paying medical bills. Depending on the ministry, the money may go directly to the family in need or through the ministry.
Most of those who opt to belong lack affordable insurance through an employer. Ministry members must attest they are good Christians and live life accordingly.Such mutual aid arrangements are an excellent idea. In a fully free society, we'd likely see more of such arrangments.
I also discussed these private arrangments in my article, "How the Freedom to Contract Protects Insurability" (The Objective Standard, Fall 2009):
In fact, many Americans have already formed private pools in which members voluntarily share each other’s health-care costs.
For instance, more than 100,000 American Christians are members of “health-care sharing ministries”—arrangements whereby members pay a monthly fee to the ministries, which in turn distribute that money to other members facing expensive medical bills. Such groups typically accept members who meet certain religious and lifestyle requirements regardless of preexisting medical conditions.
Unfortunately, these health-care sharing ministries currently cannot guarantee payments to their members, because the government would then treat them as insurance companies and subject them to myriad onerous state and federal regulations that specify what prices they may charge, what benefits they must offer, and which customers they must accept.
The only thing preventing individuals from creating their own contractually binding risk pools today is the government.All Americans (religious or otherwise) should be left free to form such voluntary mutual aid societies as they see fit.