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Catholics offer ‘out-of-the-box’ health care

May 11, 2017
Valerie Schmalz

The state of health care in the U.S. is in flux, but no matter where the nation’s laws and regulations end up, a small group of Catholic health care innovators are plunging ahead with solutions aimed at offering individualized, affordable medicine that respects Catholic values.

That’s a tall order, as speakers at the archdiocesan Respect Life Conference on “Restoring Affordable Catholic Healthcare” April 29 at St. Mary’s Cathedral event center in San Francisco acknowledged. In some ways, the solutions are a work in progress, but they also work – even if not for everyone and not all the time, the speakers said.

In brief remarks before leading the opening prayer, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone praised “this very timely and important conference.”

“The church, of course, from the very start has been a leader in providing health care, truly Christ-centered health care to care for the whole person. So, we need to, in the changing circumstances of our day continue to find new ways to deliver Christ-centered health care to those who are suffering,” Archbishop Cordileone said.

“We are all paying for health care that is garbage,” said Dr. Michel Accad, a San Francisco cardiologist, who said health insurance requirements have turned the physician into the “middleman.”

“Medical care today is increasingly mechanical,” the Catholic physician said, and lost its sense of the human being as body and soul. Doctors’ ability to practice has become hostage to what insurance companies decide are necessary, he said.

His solution was to become a direct primary care doctor. Accad said in his practice he has restored the physician as steward of the patient’s health by eschewing health insurance and instead operating on a model where patients pay a monthly fee for an ongoing relationship. Accad refers his patients for tests, services and to specialists who take insurance as well as directly paid fees, but believes with his model he provides direct, personalized care that allows him to get to know his patients and spend more time with them.

“The direct primary care movement is an affordable arrangement that aims to repair the doctor-patient relationship and reduce or remove conflicts of interest,” said Accad.

Direct primary care pediatricians, family doctors and internists are a “small but fast-growing movement,” according to a March 17 Business Insider article that said the rise of high deductible insurance plans makes the model more attractive. In the past five years, the number has increased from less than 200 to about 1,000, said Accad.

Another conference presenter offered an alternative to health insurance known as health cost sharing.

06 Michael O’Dea MUGMichael O’Dea, founder and executive director of Christ Medicus Foundation based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, first got into the field several decades ago as a volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center when he realized that almost all health insurance plans paid for abortion, artificial contraception and sterilization.

Since then, O’Dea has been working on a state and national level for conscience rights and used his expertise from a career in insurance to devise solutions aimed at providing affordable but ethical health care financing options.

Christ Medicus now offers CMF CURO. The health cost-sharing ministry provides Catholics and evangelical Christians with an economically and morally favorable alternative to the Affordable Health Care Act that is exempt from the Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate and the mandate that individuals purchase insurance, O’Dea said. To join, members must have a letter from their pastor saying they are a member or parishioner in good standing. While the program has limitations, including not covering pre-existing conditions, he said, “It’s amazing how much people can save under this program and it does not have the large deductibles.”

“Our most difficult thing is getting the word out,” O’Dea said. “It’s not insurance. Rather, it’s just Christian, sharing, caring with your brothers and sisters.”

O’Dea said direct primary care comprehensive medical centers that are faithful to the Ethical and Religious Directives of Catholic Health Care and the magisterium are also needed, particularly to provide a place for those facing terminal illness or chronic disabling conditions who insurance companies may decide to stop covering.

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