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Harvey VanGelder has a problem.

He's got brain cancer and is in Seattle awaiting a critical operation that could save his life. The problem is he can't pay for it. And the people who can, a church-based medical-cost-sharing group called Christian Health Ministries, say they won't.

VanGelder and more than 1,100 other Montanans are members of the ministry's Medi-Share program. Members pay the ministry anywhere from $130 to $400 a month, money the ministry says is pooled with other contributions to pay medical bills incurred by members.

Medi-Share accepts only those who can verify their evangelical Christian faith, and who certify they are living a "Biblical" lifestyle. It won't pay claims for conditions it believes result from an &#8220unGodly" lifestyle. That includes abortions and prenatal care for unwed mothers, unless they can prove they've been raped.

VanGelder, an Amsterdam native, has been paying into the program for years and expected Medi-Share to help him in return. But when he filed a claim hoping to guarantee payment of his potentially life-saving brain surgery, he got a shock.

The ministry, said VanGelder's lawyer, Michael Cok, refused to pay.

&#8220These poor people are just hung out," Cok said. &#8220You get a disease and all of a sudden what you thought was insurance is jerked out from under you. Then what are you supposed to do?"

The issue: The ministry claims Medi-Share is not insurance, and even says openly on its Web site that there is no guarantee of claim payment. Montana's State Auditor John Morrison disagrees and in May ordered the ministry to stop collecting premiums from members in Montana.

Morrison said the ministry had collected more than $56 million from its more than 50,000 members nationwide in 2006. The money is held in an offshore bank account in the Bahamas, according to legal documents supporting the auditor's order.

Morrison ordered the ministry to post a $1.5 million bond to cover outstanding claims and said the ministry violated numerous Montana laws - including at least one felony statute - by operating as an insurance company without proper licensing or oversight, according to the documents supporting Morrison's order.

Morrison's office said the violations constituted a fraud perpetrated on members.

Cok said he's been told Medi-Share won't pay up unless Morrison allows the ministry to continue collecting contributions from Montana members.

&#8220It's terrible, and it's causing a lot of stress to these people," Cok said.

Ministry officials could not be reached for comment Friday. But Stacia Dahl, Morrison's spokesman, said the ministry has agreed to stop collecting in Montana, and to pay all outstanding claims from members in the state.

&#8220So far they are complying with the auditor's order," Dahl said.

But Cok said VanGelder, as of Friday, hadn't received a dime, or any promise of payment.

&#8220He's in Seattle waiting," Cok said. &#8220They have to start this treatment soon. He's got a very small window of opportunity. If he misses that window, he's going to be in serious shape."

The ministry's tussle with Morrison isn't the first time it's been in trouble in Montana.

In 2006, a Missoula pastor, Michael Rowden, filed suit against the ministry after it refused to pay for heart surgery he needed after contracting an infection. The court ordered the ministry to pay $835,000 in damages to Rowland, including $750,000 as compensation for &#8220constructive fraud" on the part of the ministry.

Several other states also have taken action similar to Morrison's against the ministry.

&#8220It's too bad," Cok said. &#8220These are good Christian people. They hear about a Christian organization, founded on Christian principles and they're sucked in."

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