Health Care Sharing Ministries: An Affordable Alternative to Health Insurance

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Unable to get your hands on health insurance but afraid of the tax penalties? Health Care Sharing Ministries may be a great way for you to get access to the medical care you need, cheaper. Without the tax penalties.

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.

Those interested in learning more can check out the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries,Medi-Share and Samaritan Ministries – the last two are rather large Health Care Sharing Ministries.

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20 thoughts on “Health Care Sharing Ministries: An Affordable Alternative to Health Insurance

    1. femmefrugality

      Neither did I! Mel is awesome! I’m not sure I follow the bingo thing entirely, though… is it because the funds are provided by the user base? I think insurance companies rely on a similar though not identical model, sans the transparency about where funds are being spent.

  1. Joyce

    I heard about them before did some research about them. What I found were unhappy members who weren’t happy with what they were covering (an example circumcision) and others were OK, but were not happy about this other thing. Just seeing these in the forums scared me so I moved on. I also heard other bloggers praising them so it might works for others too.

    1. Mel

      I think for me, I don’t care what they cover. I’m not upset for my money to go towards another’s medical bills even if I don’t totally agree with what they’re doing or what decisions they made that resulted in them winding up there.

      1. seattlegirluw

        It’s great in theory but… I suddenly got sick at 19 and was in the hospital for 3 months. The second hospital, where I stayed the longest, sent insurance a $70,000 bill for ONE of my doctors. I saw either two or three there. I also got respiratory care, physical and occupational therapy, a room, food and medications. Plus the 3 weeks in ICU and 10 days in the physical rehab center.

        I still don’t know how much the bills came to. I just know that I had to switch to my mom’s insurance because I had used up my lifetime benefit amount. No ministry could begin to cover that.

        Also, I’d want to read the limitations very carefully about which procedures were covered. For example, I’m guessing they wouldn’t be too keen to cover abortions. I had to have some D&Cs because of miscarriages. Same procedure, so I’m guessing I’d have been out $4,500 each time.

        Admittedly, I haven’t investigated this, so I could be completely wrong. I’m lucky enough to have good, affordable insurance. But at some point in the next few years I’m probably going to be in the marketplace, and I’d be very nervous about hoping a reasonable amount would be covered — or that it would be covered at all.

        1. femmefrugality

          I can’t testify to what a ministry would be able to cover, but I think the overarching point Mel is making is that it’s better than nothing and probably better than most bronze plans. I’m guessing that either would leave the consumer in a state, but at least with a ministry you might have some affluent, good hearted people that were willing to help. A bronze plan has no chance of a heart.

          I’m not big into organized religion largely because of judgment and the activism behind those judgments. Abortion (or miscarriage involving the same procedure, or homophobia, the list could go on…) being one of them. This would likely not be the plan for me, but for those that do hold these beliefs I support their right to hold them even if I ardently disagree. So for those people, this may be a way to save. And is at least better than nothing!

          We have a silver plan. Because we don’t want to pay the crazy tax penalties for the 2015 tax year (which would be more than our premium payments for the year,) and because if I was going to pay for health insurance anyways, I wanted to be able to actually use it. We have some competition in our area, so while I wouldn’t call our plan affordable, we’ve found a way to do it. And copays, deductibles, and out of pockets are not so high that we’ll be in financial ruin should anything happen.

          Really hoping to gain eligibility for an employer sponsored plan that is extremely low cost and covers near everything in the near future. Because in most cases I think that’s still the best way to go.

          And Mel (or anyone,) feel free to completely disagree with me on any of this.

          Abigail, I’m really sorry you had to go through ask of that, from the illness at 19 to the miscarriages. I don’t know that I could go on. You are very, very strong. And thank you for poking holes, too. I think that doing so is the only way we can make educated decisions, whether an option is a good decision or not. With this one I think it’s largely going to be based on your religious convictions and what other options, if any, are available to you.

  2. Hayley @ Disease Called Debt

    Great article from Mel explaining this. For a religious person, this sounds like a great way of providing healthcare at a reasonable cost. In the UK, we’re really lucky to have the National Health Service (NHS) – we pay our national insurance contributions which are not much to be honest and any illnesses that we are unfortunate enough to get are covered by this without the need to worry about medical bills. There is usually a waiting list for operations and treatments though but emergencies are dealt with brilliantly.

    1. Mel

      I actually first read about them last year over at Club Thrifty, I could be wrong, but I believe Holly and Greg belong to one and have for several months – if you’re seriously considering it, theirs is another great website to check out and see what their experience has been like.

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  5. vmorgan456

    I didn’t realize they had this kind of health coverage available to just anyone. I like this idea and hope your post helps someone along the way. Such a great post.

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