“At first I was kind of skeptical,” he said in a recent phone interview.

That was until 2012, when McGillvray said his premiums reached $1,500 a month.

“I just said, ‘I’m not doing that,’” he said.

Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings

Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings

McGillvray reviewed a few ministries; who they were for, who they weren’t for, what the plans covered and what wasn’t. A typical health care sharing ministry may require members to show that they attend church. They also won’t, for example, typically cover pregnancies out of wedlock or an abortion.

In the “gold plan” with his health care sharing ministry, the cost to cover McGillvray and his wife is $377 a month.

“This was a no-brainer for us,” he said. “Now I’m paying $5,000 a year.”

In the spirit of sharing, McGillvray’s ministry, Christian Healthcare Ministries, also sends out a monthly newsletter, where members can voluntarily contribute to another member who is experiencing high costs of unexpected medical needs.

“It’s truly a community of commonly shared ethics and believers,” he said.

But the other side of the ministry experience is no guarantee that the medical needs — like Maria’s surgery — will be covered when they arise. Pre-existing conditions can also be cause to deny a claim. This, regulators say, is what makes ministries “not insurance.”