Consider Health Sharing Programs, by Harvey Griffin

Regular visitors to SurvivalBlog no doubt share the desire for greater independence and are assisted by the virtues of frugality and common sense. Like many of you, I search for alternative products and services that fit my budget, lifestyle, and values. One line item that proved difficult to match my requirements but was a necessary evil for years was health insurance. I have a family with young children and as much as I admire pioneers and the old ways of doing things, I could not responsibly choose to forgo coverage altogether. Thankfully about six years ago I researched Christian health sharing programs and made the switch from conventional insurance, and I could not be more grateful or happy that we did.

I hope that by sharing my family’s experience we will help others. We would particularly like to help those who are baffled or struggling with conventional insurance and medical costs and are not aware of this option and how it can change your lifestyle.

A health care sharing ministry program has functions and terms that are familiar to anyone with conventional health insurance. Members pay a monthly “sharing amount” that works like a premium, which is used to pay program costs but is also directed to a pool that is used to pay member claims. This monthly share may be variable based on the program sponsor, but each sponsor may have varying tiers of coverage. Like insurance, if you want more coverage, you pay a higher share. My family of five pays $650 per month for our program’s highest level of coverage. There is an annual “unshared” amount of medical expenses that fall on us, like an insurance deductible. Unlike the deductible, there is no additional cost sharing once we hit our unshared amount limit. Insurance will continue to use coinsurance or copays until there is an even higher “max out-of-pocket” limit. My family’s annual unshared limit with our health share is $3,500. Other programs have similar cost tiers but from what I have seen the most expensive option costs far less than any policy and have far more generous coverage terms.

Health care ministries have existed for centuries if you consider them as friendly associations of believers. Churches have always “passed the hat” for members going through a hard time and in more modern times different denominations have established life insurance programs and financial planning arms. I will note that the health care ministries today are largely general Christian and not affiliated with a particular denomination, although there are denomination-specific ministries. In many programs members may post about what they are going through, give thanks for the assistance of other members, and ask for prayers. All of this is anonymous. This type of health care cost sharing took off when the Patient Protection and Affordability Act (Obamacare) was signed into law and individuals were faced with the choice of either accepting some type of health coverage or paying a penalty tax. Health share ministries were codified in the law as an acceptable alternative. Although the individual mandate no longer bears a penalty tax, there remain several great reasons to consider these plans vs conventional coverage.

As mentioned above, the comparative cost of health insurance vs. health sharing ministry membership is considerable. If my family was on my employer-sponsored health plan, we would pay close to $1,400 per month in premium and have a family deductible of $10,000. This is standard coverage for many people. Contrast this to the $650 monthly share amount and $3,500 unshared cost limit I already mentioned for our health ministry, and the cost differences speak for themselves. Everyone’s situation is different, but these figures are going to approximate many families’ situation. If you are getting premium tax credits, or your employer pays more of the cost of healthcare the contrast may not be as large. Those on a group plan, or self-employed and paying for their own coverage, or retirees pre-Medicare no what I am talking about.

In our case, and what I hope to share with those for whom this is appropriate, switching to the health share ministry changed our lifestyle. The reduction in cost is why my wife can stay home and homeschool our children. For many years if we had been without it, she would have had to work a job with better benefits and enough pay to cover childcare. God Bless you if you are a family that must do this, but I hope you will consider a health share ministry as a possible way out or at least a relief on your family’s cash flow. Our arrangement keeps the family at home and focused on the home and each other. A less tangible benefit, but an important one, is the sense of independence of having our health coverage separate from our employment. I am satisfied with my work, and the satisfaction is just that much purer because I control the source of my family’s health coverage.

We also use the savings on training classes for our skills, food supplies, and other preparation of course!

Participating in a Christian health ministry aligns our health care with our family values. This becomes more important as government mandates and corporate decisions in insurance and benefit plans change, by law of by choice, the services covered. If you pay into a conventional health insurance plan you are contributing contraceptives, abortifacients, and more. Christian health shares do not cover anything out of line with traditional Christian teaching and require members to sign an oath they will not engage in un-Christian activities. It is a comfort to know that your monthly share amount is supporting fellow believers in need and is not being used to fund services or procedures outside your value system.

There are items to note, or possibly “cons” to consider to be fair. There are no network negotiations between the health share and providers, and you are going to be considered “uninsured.” This is interesting when you are given a bill and may be provided a second estimate or quote with a massive write-down on a procedure. It makes one question where billing numbers by hospitals come from. You are your own claims administrator. On anything other than high-cost procedures like child delivery, hospitalization, etc., you pay the bill and submit for reimbursement. The timing of reimbursement can at times be lengthy, i.e. months after submittal. This may be different for each group. Larger procedures may be paid directly by the health share, but probably at another discount to the bill. The provider (doctor’s office or hospital) may then balance bill you, and you will have to follow up with your health share to work with the provider and ensure the claim is resolved.

The program may have your complete a health questionnaire and will ask about pre-existing conditions. Conventional insurance can no longer consider this, but health sharing ministries can. Pre-existing conditions may not disqualify you but could impact your initial costs and you may have to participate in additional wellness checks or health coaching. This was the case when we switched, but happily neither the additional cost or health coaching were particularly onerous and were temporary. The cost was added to our monthly share and even with this fee our total was far below what we were paying with insurance.

When I describe these cons to anyone, we inevitably begin sharing stories of similar claims and administrative issues with conventional insurance. Claims are denied, covered prescriptions are removed from the pharmacy formularies, providers or procedures are out of network, and the like. Given these issues, I must again put points in favor of the health share ministries. At least on the program we use, we receive confirmation receipts on our emails, calls are picked up by a real person, and issues are eventually resolved in our favor. Part of the hesitancy to switching to health share that I hear is a fear that claims won’t be paid or otherwise that you will somehow be on the hook for a tremendous bill. We had all three children while on a health share and I had two general surgeries, and everything was taken care of. There is nothing to fear.

Moving from a conventional insurance plan to a Christian health share ministry will provide you with more money, more independence, and greater peace of mind. It is a change that supports self-sufficiency and the family. The cost difference can be astounding, while the sense of independence from employer-provided coverage and large insurance companies is real.

Participation in a health share aligns your health care with your values and you know that you are not helping fund procedures or “treatment” for anything outside of what you believe. We liken it to shopping local, or using more cash, or any of the other great advice you have seen on this site that will give you the satisfaction of helping people over corporations and doing what is good for your family instead of the government. It is a different program, and therefore doubt and concerns are expected, but a true weighting of the pros and cons illustrates the superiority of the health share ministries.

JWR Adds: I recommend that SurvivalBlog readers carefully compare the various Health Sharing Programs available, before selecting one. About 15 years ago, I chose Samaritan Ministries, and I’ve been quite happy with their program.