With the cost of health insurance for you and your family ever on the rise, a lot of people are turning to faith-based ministries that let you share the cost of your health care with others in accordance with Biblical scripture.
But are these programs good for your wallet?
Health care sharing ministries: A closer look
The cost of health insurance is going higher and higher and often the plans comes with very high deductibles. That’s why many people are using faith-based organizations to go into a risk pool for health care with others who share your beliefs.
Organizations like Medi-Share and Christian Healthcare Ministries are among some of the most popular in this arena. Each requires that you fill out a statement about your faith and attend church regularly, among other things, in order to be able to join.
Money expert Clark Howard says you need to know the way these health care sharing ministries work on the financial side before signing up for them.
“These are not traditional insurance products. They are much cheaper for you to go into, but the problem with any risk pool is if a number of people end up with a serious illness, there may not be enough money to pay the bills,” the consumer champ says.
“So know that even though you will save money, this is not the same as traditional health coverage.”
So how much does it cost to be a member of one of these groups? Here’s a look at two of the popular ministries…
We priced rates for a 40-year-old woman looking to purchase coverage for herself and one dependent through Medi-Share.
The annual household portion you see is similar to a deductible that has to be met each year before benefits kick in.
So our hypothetical 40-year-old woman would have the financial responsibility of paying at least $1,750 in health care costs before any bills would be eligible for sharing. However, we should note that sharing of maternity bills is not allowed at the $1,000 or $1,750 levels.
The next column you see is the standard monthly share. It’s similar to a monthly premium and it operates on a sliding scale.
That is, you only get access to the lowest monthly premium — $216 in this case — if you’re willing to pay $10,500 out of your own pocket in annual medical bills before benefits kick in. If you can’t afford ten grand, you might select a standard monthly share of say, $400, and cut your annual household portion (i.e. your annual deductible) by more than half.
Incidentally, the money you pay monthly is matched to the medical bills of other members to help share their health care costs.
The third column you see, Healthy Monthly Share, is a subset of the monthly share except it offers up to a 20% discount on monthly costs and is only available to certain members who meet stringent health criteria.
Christian Healthcare Ministries pricing
Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM), meanwhile, has a slightly different approach. CHM breaks its offerings down into three flavors:
The gold plan costs $150 per month for a single person, the silver plan costs $85 per month and the bronze plan costs $45 per month.
While the bronze plan’s price tag looks attractive, you have to take on more financial responsibility upfront by paying more of your own medical bills before they’re eligible for sharing. In this case, it’s $5,000 per medical incident that you’ll be responsible for if you select the bronze plan.
For catastrophic illness or injury, CHM also offers the Brother’s Keeper plan, which covers health care expenses in excess of the sharing limit of $125,000 per illness. Brother’s Keeper is available for an additional $40 annual fee and ongoing monthly commitment of $25.
Keep in mind that with both Medi-Share and Christian Healthcare Ministries, you’re also responsible for office visit co-pays that generally start at around $35.
Here’s a look at some potential pitfalls with health care sharing ministries…
As mentioned before, health care sharing ministries are not traditional insurance. There’s no contractual obligation for the ministry to cover your bills. Rather, there’s a sharing principle in effect that reflects Scriptural beliefs.
In addition to the program limits and the fact that there are no guarantees of payment, here are few other things to be aware of…
You may not have traditional means of recourse if a dispute arises
Many health care sharing ministries have forced arbitration clauses with a Christian twist. For example, Medi-Share relies on Biblically based mediation and arbitration through the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation of the Institute for Christian Conciliation, a division of Peacemaker Ministries.
Meanwhile, a 2018 Harvard Law blog questions the use of religious tribunals to settle matters about courses of medical treatment that could amount to life or death, as health care often does.
Just something to keep in mind if you’re considering health care sharing.
Know the potential exclusions before signing up
Use of tobacco, illegal drugs or participating in non-marital sex will typically disqualify you from health care sharing ministries, and that makes sense given that these groups are looking to support certain moral choices among members.
But additional exclusions can include — though are not limited to — routine dental expenses, sleep apnea treatment, most elective surgeries, weight reduction procedures, abortions or births from unwed mothers, infertility testing or treatment, surrogate maternity procedures, psychological treatment, prosthetics, medical supplies, most medical transportation, immunizations, nursing home care/rehab housing, gym memberships and more.
If you’re considering signing up for a health care sharing ministry, check with them directly about exclusions.
Beware of pre-existing conditions
Let’s say you have a condition that you’ve mentioned to your doctor in the past, but you haven’t take any action on it. For example, maybe you’ve had some kind of bump on your body for awhile that seems benign, but it later turns out to be cancerous and needs to be excised immediately.
If you mentioned this condition to your doctor, these sharing ministries may use that as grounds to declare it a pre-existing condition and deny coverage. Or, here’s another scenario that doesn’t involve full denial of coverage: Medical bills related to pre-existing conditions may only be eligible for sharing at a lower level than your other medical bills.
It’s best to check with the health care sharing ministry you’re considering to know how they would handle this kind of situation before it happens.
Health care sharing ministries are not for everybody, but they may be the right solution for you or your family if traditional insurance is just too expensive. Be sure to consider your circumstances carefully and read all the fine print before signing on the dotted line.