Nothing in this world is black and white.
I’m not too big on organized religion. It’s a personal opinion that I don’t want to force on anyone else. For me, there were so many negatives. But I can’t ignore all the good that it does for its membership. Helping someone through a hard time. Building a sense of community. Or, as I recently found out, offering Health Care Sharing Ministries.
A blogger friend I hold in high esteem, Mel from brokeGIRLrich, left a comment on a recent post about what to do if you find yourself uninsured and in need of an ER. She was talking about her exploration into Health Care Sharing Ministries, something I had never heard of before. It was something that sounded like it could help a lot of readers, though, in light of difficultly obtaining health insurance, and increased penalties next tax season if you don’t have it. She was generous enough to write this post. If organized religion is your cup of tea, particularly of the Christian persuasion, pull up a chair, because this may just blow your mind and restore your budget.
Some might say the Affordable Care Act leaves a lot to be desired… I’m one of those some, and you can check out those opinions right here. Additionally, as a freelance stage manager I’m unlikely to wind up with employer sponsored coverage anytime soon.
So what’s a girl to do?
Well, this girl has been looking more and more into Health Care Sharing Ministries and I like what I see.
Health Care Sharing Ministries are a cost sharing agreement among a group of people of the same faith. The members of the ministry pay in a certain amount each month and then that money is redistributed to those with medical bills among the group.
Starting in the 1960s with, no surprise here, the Amish, Health Care Sharing Ministries have been growing steadily ever since. They encourage the Christian (and I’m sure other faiths as well) mentality of sharing one another’s burdens and taking care of one another. Health Care Sharing Ministries operate under the premise of Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ” and Acts 2:44-45: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
How does it work on a practical level?
When you wind up with a medical bill, you submit the information to the Ministry. The Ministry then reimburses you out of its coffers.
If it can afford the entire amount, that’s the amount they send (imagine a doctor’s visit, a few lab tests, or even a broken ankle emergency room visit), if the amount is staggering, it will provide as much coverage as it can and alert the community of Ministry members to your need. They will then either pay out over the next few months as money comes into the Ministry, or members of the Ministry that are able may decide to contribute more that month to help you pay the bill.
Members of the Ministry are updated on the groups medical bills via a digest that is published monthly. Clearly there are many who may not want their medical bills made so public, in which case this is just not a group for you. The transparency is part of the accountability of the group and informs participants about where the money is going.
Keeping in mind that this is also a Christian ministry, it keeps members informed so they can pray for one another as well. Sharing a burden is often more than just a financial calling.
Similar to insurance, different Health Care Sharing Ministries have different limitations or requirements. Some of them require you to pay a co-pay for doctor’s visits, some have Annual Household Portions (the equivalent of a deductible) that you must meet first before submitting any bills, some have limits on the amount that can be paid out per medical incident.
Be sure to carefully read the restrictions and research different Health Care Sharing Ministries thoroughly before joining any.
When is their open enrollment?
ALL THE TIME. You can join a Health Care Sharing Ministry at any time of year, regardless of any sort of “qualifying event.”
What about tax penalties for healthcare?
In many states Health Care Sharing Ministries operate under “safe harbor laws.” Those states have statutes that specifically recognize the ministries and exempt them from insurance code penalties.
Health Care Sharing Ministries are active in all fifty states, even in states without specific safe harbor laws. They are recognized by the Federal government and do not result in a tax-penalty.
If you get coverage partially through the year though, the penalty may be pro-rated for the months you were not a member of the Health Care Sharing Ministry.
Ready to join?
As I mentioned above, each Health Care Sharing Ministry has slightly different guidelines on how to join, but most require you submit a written testimony of your relationship with Jesus Christ, along with a promise to live a Christian lifestyle that includes abstaining from drugs, drinking in moderations, not smoking and abstaining from sex outside of marriage.
If you lie and ever have medical issues related to those catalysts, they will not be covered.
Several Ministries require a signed letter from your pastor before you can be considered.
Additionally, some Ministries will not accept people with any pre-existing conditions or who are in poor health. On the plus side, if you can qualify for those Ministries, they often seem to be the ones with the lower monthly payments. If you do have a pre-existing condition, there are still plenty of Health Care Sharing Ministries that will admit you.
There is a new member fee that seems to be between $100-300 (my research is by no means exhaustive, this is based off of the several I’ve personally been looking at).
Monthly payments for a single person can range anywhere from $21-$400 – pre-existing conditions are taken into consideration when calculating this. Families range from $100-800.