Members in Michigan launch Christian Healthcare Centers

Mike Miller  ·  Mar 01, 2016

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By Mark Blocher

Health care in America has severe problems. Everyone knows it. As each election approaches, politicians promise to “fix it.” Some within the health care community exploit it for their own benefit. Both doctors and patients are frustrated. In the end, everybody suffers.

We live in a health care paradox, where we have available the best medical technology the world has ever known, but may face a crushing financial disaster when we have to use it. Although modern health care can do amazing things to restore physical stability, acquiring it can extremely expensive. Health care itself is amazing. The appetite created for it is increasingly hard to feed, and everyone feels the pain.

What is broken in health care? Consider this: when a doctor gets paid more if he performs a prostate exam on an office visit separate from the patient’s annual physical, there is a problem. When removing earwax requires two separate office visits because the doctor is paid a fixed amount so he examines only one ear at a time, there is a problem. When doctors have to hire staff to do nothing but work the medical billing codes to maximize the capture of revenue, there is a problem. A substantial amount of the cost of health care has nothing to do with patient care.

Doctors like those above are not the only problem. Hospitals and insurance companies position themselves to recover their losses from the taxpayers through clever state and federal programs designed by lobbyists and hidden in congressional funding legislation. Litigators actively recruit litigants to go after doctors and health care organizations for quick cash settlements over dubious “injuries,” and we all pay the price when doctors feel compelled to practice “defensive medicine.”

Some of the problems in health care funding are just plain foolishness. Recently, an elderly woman in her 80s underwent an outpatient orthopedic surgery that involved staying in the hospital for less than 24-hours. Following a short period of recovery, she was to be transferred to an intermediate care facility for physical therapy and other post-operative care prior to returning to her home. However, she discovered that the intermediate rehabilitation facility to which she would be released could not take her until she had been in the hospital for three full days because Medicare would not pay for intermediate rehab until then. Therefore, this widow unnecessarily spent an additional three days in an expensive hospital (which Medicare Part A paid for) because her Medicare Part B would not pay for her intermediate rehabilitation until she had been hospitalized for three days. Such atrociously bad stewardship is more the rule than the exception. Is it any wonder that so many doctors and patients are fed up with the American medical system? Few doubt the health care system in America is broken. However, a new day in health care is coming.

Despite many flaws in the system, we are fortunate to have excellent medical professionals dedicated to caring for their patients. These practitioners are strong advocates for their patients and frequently battle with insurance bureaucrats and business offices to get the medical that care patients need. They often face opposition on multiple fronts. Too many have given up and left clinical practice altogether, while many bright young people choose a profession other than medicine.

Readers of this newsletter will recall earlier articles describing a growing number of physicians “opting out” of medical insurance and taking their medical practice into what has come to be known as “direct primary care.” This is a model where patients either pay the doctor directly for each medical service provided or, in some instances, pay an annual membership fee to gain ready access to a particular physician without incurring any additional out-of-pocket cost or co-pay.

Some call this approach “boutique medicine” or “concierge medicine,” and criticize it because it often means catering to wealthier patients who can afford to pay more for access to their physician. Many doctors dislike the notion of limiting their medical knowledge and skill to only those individuals who can afford them. However, a new day is coming to health care.

Despite its critics, direct primary medical care serves both patients and physicians well, and there is good reason to expect the trend toward this model of medical service delivery to grow. For those entrepreneurial Christian doctors who have moved their practice into this model, most find it liberating since it enables them to practice medicine according to their Christian beliefs without interference from insurance companies, big health care corporations, or government regulators. Doctors with direct pay practices report experiencing greater satisfaction among their patients, greater professional satisfaction, and an improved home life.

200 by 400 drop quote (7)As a pastor and member of Samaritan Ministries, I’m excited about a hybrid form of direct pay medical care that takes the best of concierge medicine, makes it accessible to patients regardless of income, and captures the distinctiveness of Christian communities like Samaritan Ministries. I’ve teamed up with Jeff Woo, an internal medicine physician, and Brian Aenis, a certified orthoptist, both of whom are also members of Samaritan, to launch Christian Healthcare Centers in Grand Rapids, Michigan. CHC adapts the direct pay medical services model to become one of the first overtly Christian not-for-profit organizations in the nation to direct its services to the Christian community. Our mission statement says, “Christian Healthcare Centers is committed to providing exceptional comprehensive health care services to the Body of Christ, guided by Biblical values.” The organization’s statement of faith and the criteria for membership mirror that of Samaritan Ministries, thereby providing Samaritan Ministries’ members in Michigan with a true medical “home.” Samaritan members can be assured that their medical care will be provided to them by Christians who share their beliefs and values, and who share their participation with Samaritan Ministries.

We have three principal motivations behind the launch of Christian Healthcare Centers. First is the desire to improve patient care, resulting in better medical outcomes. Since the Center is overtly Christian, we engage our patients as “whole persons created in God’s image,” says Dr. Woo, who serves as CHC’s Medical Director. “How often does someone see a doctor who not only asks questions about their physical well-being, but enquires about the quality of the patient’s prayer life, how often they read Scripture, whether they regularly participate in the ministry of a local church? Numerous published studies in the medical literature support our belief that a patient’s spirituality plays a significant role in a person’s overall wellness,” he says. “We integrate that research with our Christian theology to create a very distinct type of caring in our centers. We believe the whole person is the whole image, so we endeavor to care for the whole person.” The Center’s medical team believes this will lead to improved wellness among its members, fewer people admitted to the hospital or developing chronic medical conditions.

The second motivation for the organization’s formation is stewardship of all that God entrusts to His people. Everyone knows that insurance premiums have increased as coverage has decreased. Many doctors are frustrated with mountains of paperwork that require additional hours away from their own families and distract from actual patient care. Patients are frustrated waiting for insurance company bureaucrats to authorize treatments that their doctor says they need. Foremost in this broken system is the cost of health care. It has consistently risen faster than any other sector of the American economy, with much of that cost having little to do with improving patient care.

I know a pastor in Michigan whose church pays over $20,000 per year to provide insurance coverage for his family, which includes both parents and three school age children. Over the last five years, they have met their annual deductible one time with insurance covering one claim of a little more than a thousand dollars. What did he get for his church’s expenditure of so much money? Pre-negotiated discounts on medical services and medications. Imagine what a small church could do with $20,000.

Christian Healthcare Centers and Samaritan Ministries share a desire to improve stewardship of financial and human resources related to health care. In short, God’s people can avoid spending thousands of dollars on insurance policies that often provide little more than a medical service discount. The money currently spent by thousands of Christians on medical insurance that a Christian family seldom uses could be better spent furthering God’s mission for His people.

Stewardship of finances is only one aspect of stewardship. Brian Aenis, who is Director of Center Operations, says, “Christian Healthcare Centers is committed to helping God’s people become better stewards of their own health. Through health and wellness education initiatives, publications, and care plans established between Christian physicians and their patients, believers can model for the country how the practice of Biblical Christianity directly impacts personal wellness.” Although non-Christian wellness models are well-intentioned and see some modest improvements in some patients, there is no substitute for the person enabled by God the Holy Spirit to make changes in her life to “steward” her physical, spiritual, and mental wellbeing. This is an important aspect of the CHC medical model.

The Christian Healthcare Centers’ model also provides a pathway for medical professionals to apply their medical knowledge and skills within an environment that shares their Christian values, which enhances their belief that what they do makes a real difference for both this life and the one to come. It enables them to maximize the impact on people’s lives from birth to death, and all along the human life continuum.

“Like any professional, doctors want to know that their work makes a difference. Like our Great Physician changed people’s lives, we strive to change lives too, not by performing miracles, but through pushing back the effects of the Fall through good medical practice, prayer, and Christian caring. It makes me a better doctor knowing I can do this for people. It makes me a better Christian knowing that I can rely on faith in the Lord to provide the wisdom I need to help my patients,” Aenis explains.

200 by 400 drop quote (8)The third motivation for launching Christian Healthcare Centers is to spark a movement toward a deeper practice of Christian community. The history of Samaritan Ministries demonstrates it is possible for Christians from a broad spectrum of churches to come together around shared beliefs and values in order to create a genuine caring community. Christian Healthcare Centers shares this important aspiration and intends to build upon the foundation that Samaritan has already laid.

Medical care is unique in its ability to get very personal with people, for obvious reasons. When the provision of medical services and the funding for those services is guided by Biblical values and a common bond in Christ, a platform for greater personalized ministry exists. Just as Samaritan provides access to pastoral counseling, prayer partners, and other services that meet needs and move people toward spiritual maturity, so does Christian Healthcare Centers.

I believe our ministry will become an important resource for local churches as pastors and doctors find ways to bring their unique gifts to bear on the needs of people in local congregations. As a pastor, I know how much it helps to work with physicians and other practitioners to minister to hurting people. I’m excited to see how God uses us to add this important piece to the caring ministry of the local church.

The Centers will be a place to whom churches can refer pastors and missionaries for physicals, medical care, counseling services, and even help when the pastor or missionary is “burned out.” Too many vocational Christian workers are permanently lost to full-time ministry because the stress of ministry left unchecked eventually takes a toll. Pastors and missionaries need a safe place to off-load some of the weight of ministry. Since we are a Christian organization, we partner with a number of qualified, dedicated Christian counselors who can help when needed. As a pastor, I know how important it is to have someone who ministers to me.

Within this vision of enhanced Christian community is the recognition that we all live within an increasingly post-Christian culture; one that is expressing a growing hostility toward the Christian faith. In short, we Christians need each other and we should expect that need to grow. With that in mind, Christian Healthcare Centers offers a pathway for collaborating with local churches to strengthen the Christian community.

The vision for Christian Healthcare Centers is to establish a center in virtually every major city in America and in every state. This is obviously an ambitious vision and assumes the success of its first center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is projected to open in late summer 2016. However, it is a new day in health care, and, since we serve a big God Who has a big mission for His people, there is no reason to think that it cannot be done.

If you would like more information about Christian Healthcare Centers, contact us on the web at www.chcenters.org or email us at info@chcenters.org.

Member Mark Blocher is the President/CEO of Christian Healthcare Centers. He is a Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Cornerstone University. He is the author of The Right to Die? Caring Alternatives to Euthanasia and Vital Signs: Decisions that Determine the Quality of Life and Health.