Fred Bennett did not have insurance, but more than $40,000 of the bills from his 2007 heart attack were paid.
The Chattanooga nonprofit ministry leader is a member of Medi-Share, a program in which members share resources to pay each other's medical expenses.
Bennett, interim director of Titus International, is one of 1,242 members of the program in Tennessee and one of 46,997 members in 49 states across the country.
"From the first," he said, "I've been very pleased with them."
"Price and principle," he said, are its two most important attributes.
Operated by Christian Care Ministry of Melbourne, Fla., and open to people who agree to a specific set of biblical values and lifestyle behaviors, the members-run program has shared more than $500 million in medical expenses since it began in 1993.
The program's statement of faith asks members to believe in a Trinitarian God, believe the Bible is "verbally inspired, authoritative and without error," believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, believe in the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit and believe that man was created in the image of God, was fallen by sin and can be restored by accepting God's gift of salvation made possible through Christ's death.
"It's pretty general," said Bennett, acknowledging its tenets are similar to those found in many Christian denominations. "The part that probably eliminates more people [is that] your pastor has to sign off on you. It's one of those spiritual accountability things."
He has been a member since shortly after the program began in 1993. It was especially appealing at the time, he said, because he had two children at home.
As with other health-care sharing ministries, members of Medi-Share are exempt from President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires Americans to purchase insurance by 2014 or face financial penalties.
"Reasonable people can disagree" about Congress' intent in the health-care bill, said Tony Meggs, president of Christian Care Ministry, "but they had wisdom in understanding that health-care sharing ministries are part of the solution."
Bennett, 59, said Medi-Share isn't for everybody because it requires trust and self-discipline.
"Most people want the word guarantee," he said. "When you check the bottom line on an insurance company, there are exclusions and the fine print. But somehow people find security in the word insurance."
Meggs said typical Medi-Share users are often heads of households who lead small businesses or sole proprietorships - and their families - or individuals who work in small businesses that don't provide health insurance.
"The reason most people are attracted to it," he said, "is it's an inexpensive way to pay for medical bills, especially for catastrophic events. And many are simply attracted to the concept of like-minded individuals of like faith sharing in everyday needs."
With Medi-Share, Bennett said, "there's no guarantee it's going to pay [for every claim], but they give their word that if I follow their guidelines, the group will take care of the group."
Over the years, he said, he's had several procedures in which his expenses were shared with other members.
With Bennett's heart attack, for instance, the medical bills were $65,000-$67,000. After negotiating a discount rate, as insurance companies do, the amount was still more than $42,000. Bennett paid his per-incident cost of $250, and other members shared the rest.
"Every once in a while," he said, "something small is not covered. [But they don't] stick you with the big stuff."
With Titus International, missionary families are required to have health coverage, Bennett said. Upon his description to them of the organization, he said, several Titus International families looked into it and joined.
Bennett said he also was gratified a Medi-Share contact offered to have a prayer with him before he was to undergo a medical procedure and called him back several days after the surgery to check on his progress.
He's always glad, he said, "to tell people what a reputable, well-run, respectable organization it is."