Continued low rates of enrolment in community-based health insurance (CBHI) suggest that strategies proposed for scaling up are unsuccessfully implemented or inadequately address underlying limitations of CBHI. One reason may be a lack of incorporation of social and political context into CBHI policy. In this study, the hypothesis is proposed that values and power relations inherent in social networks of CBHI stakeholders can explain levels of CBHI coverage. To test this, three case studies constituting Senegalese CBHI schemes were studied. Transcripts of interviews with 64 CBHI stakeholders were analysed using inductive coding. The five most important themes pertaining to social values and power relations were: voluntarism, trust, solidarity, political engagement and social movements. Analysis of these themes raises a number of policy and implementation challenges for expanding CBHI coverage. First is the need to subsidize salaries for CBHI scheme staff. Second is the need to develop more sustainable internal and external governance structures through CBHI federations. Third is ensuring that CBHI resonates with local values concerning four dimensions of solidarity (health risk, vertical equity, scale and source). Government subsidies is one of the several potential strategies to achieve this. Fourth is the need for increased transparency in national policy. Fifth is the need for CBHI scheme leaders to increase their negotiating power vis-à-vis health service providers who control the resources needed for expanding CBHI coverage, through federations and a social movement dynamic. Systematically addressing all these challenges would represent a fundamental reform of the current CBHI model promoted in Senegal and in Africa more widely; this raises issues of feasibility in practice. From a theoretical perspective, the results suggest that studying values and power relations among stakeholders in multiple case studies is a useful complement to traditional health systems analysis.