Letter Re: Christian Medical Sharing Ministries

Hugh:

In response to a recent contributor’s comments on health care sharing ministries, I want to add my biased take. (Full disclosure, I am a member sponsor for Liberty HealthShare, meaning I make some money by referring people to their programs. However, I do recommend any of the various major health sharing ministries– Liberty, Samaritan, Medi-Share, and Christian Healthcare Ministries. I think most people will have a good experience with any of them, so long as they are properly informed and know what to expect.)

The big concern raised in the recent post was that it might be difficult to find a provider.

Medical cost sharing is NOT health insurance. It doesn’t work the same way. We don’t have coverages or networks, PPOs, HMOs, et cetera. As a faith based community, we share medical expenses based on a set of rules/guidelines that we agree to, not the providers. Medical cost sharing isn’t for everyone. We spend a lot of time educating people about how it’s different from insurance. Based on these differences, you shouldn’t expect to have a network of “coverage in your area”. Please read on to see why I would make that statement.

From here on out my comments are relative to using Liberty HealthShare. Ultimately we are cash payers, so you can go to whatever provider you want so long as the expenses are eligible to be shared. (Our 2016 guidelines contain all the details, but in general we share costs on traditional medical incidents i.e. doctors, hospitals, etc.)

Members of Liberty HealthShare are issued a membership card. The question is “will my doctor take it?” The answer is likely “yes”. The card has an electronic payor ID on the back. Liberty uses the same type of electronic billing procedure that most doctor’s offices are used to. So I recommend that members simply walk into the doctor’s office and present the card with no other explanation. Most of the time they will take it no questions asked. They just want to know where to send the bill. If the office has any questions, they can call the number on the card and work it out on the phone right there. Over 90% of the time, an office will take the card and bill electronically versus the member having to pay cash and be reimbursed later. (I’ll add the caveat that members in the inter-mountain West have recently been having trouble with IHC hospitals, so I recommend avoiding them for the time being.)

The main difficulty is that most doctors’ offices haven’t heard of the concept. And that leaves the member in sort of an ambiguous situation similar to that of the person I’m responding to. I realize that’s not okay for some. Unfortunately, when you ask a doctor’s office whether they take healthcare sharing (or medical cost sharing), then it raises questions and concerns that they don’t have time to deal with. They don’t know what you’re talking about. So they are skeptical. But on the bright side and most importantly, their office staff does understand the electronic billing system. That information on the back of the membership card about where to send the bill is generally all they need. So as a member you do have all the tools necessary for the doctor’s office to take care of you and process your bill without much of a hassle, and most of the time it works out.

In the case of the author of the post, I would recommend that they simply present the card at their preferred doctor’s office the next time they need to go in. Don’t offer any other explanation. It’s possible the doctor might refuse to bill via the card, but it’s unlikely. If they have a significant medical incident occur I do recommend calling the Liberty staff for guidance unless it’s an emergency. In the case of an emergency, go wherever you need to and it can be sorted out later. In any situation, if need be you can always pay cash (or credit card) and get reimbursed (as per the guidelines) so long as the expenses are eligible for sharing. (Also you can always try a different doctor.)

It’s kind of a leap of faith to handle healthcare this way, but with a little education most of our members are able to work out the details to their satisfaction.

Medical Cost Sharing has been a real blessing for my family and many others. My family has used the concept. Our family doctor took the card no questions asked, and we have used it several times. (But the midwives we used for our last childbirth could not take it, so I just paid cash and was reimbursed per the guidelines. It required a little planning.)

In any case, I’m very encouraged that this concept will be helpful to others who are of like mind. I hope this helps clarify the concept.

(By the way, a naturopath was mentioned… Liberty is the only group anywhere that I know of that will share costs for natural and alternative treatments. They have a few conditions that must be met (see the guidelines). But it’s a very positive option if you like alternative medicine. )

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