Healthcare Sharing Ministries: Better than Insurance?

With skyrocketing costs for medical insurance and fines for those who aren’t covered, individual and families have begun to consider alternatives to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or other traditional insurers.

Some individuals have stumbled upon the health care sharing model, made popular by organizations such as Liberty HealthShare and Medi-Share. But what exactly are these alternative insurances, and how do they compare to traditional health insurance?

How Healthcare Sharing Works

Health care sharing ministries are religious nonprofits that offer members a way to cover medical expenses and be exempt from coverage fines under the ACA. Each month, members contribute a fixed amount to the nonprofit, which is then used by any other member who has an approved request for medical funds. Similar to a conventional health insurance plan, a member must submit a sum of money before requesting for the ministry to pay a covered bill.

Rather than deductibles and copays, health care sharing ministries have annual “unshared amounts”, a total cost you must pay yourself before asking the community to support you. In addition, these programs expect you to follow religious standards to be part of their medical cost sharing ministry. This means they have a very low tolerance for substance abuse and expect you to take care of your body by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Participants who do not will be assigned a health coach and pay a higher monthly fee.

Healthcare Sharing Ministries vs. Traditional Health Insurance Plans

Compared to traditional healthcare coverage provided by an individual or group insurance plan, health care sharing has a variety of pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Exemption from ACA fines (click to read official HHS approval of health care sharing ministries)
  • Significantly cut insurance bills, especially for families
  • Connection to a community that shares your faith
  • Join or leave the ministry at any time, no contracts
  • Health programs to fight obesity and smoking
  • Lower coverage costs allow members extra money for services that aren’t covered such as routine visits
  • No deductible or copay, uses the yearly “unshared amount” method

The ministries may also be a great fit for those who have patchy coverage from their workplace and are looking to fill some gaps.

Cons:

  • Expected to adhere to moral standards regarding substance abuse, sex, etc
  • No coverage for abortions, STIs, and other unbiblical procedures
  • Lack of regulations leave some users wondering exactly what’s covered and what’s not
  • Not a good fit for those with chronic or mental health conditions, due to coverage limitations
  • Does not cover routine medical visits such as annual “check ups”, pap smears, etc
  • Dental and vision not normally covered
  • No subsidies available from the government

Clearly, healthcare sharing may not be for everyone. If you are unwilling to engage in a defined religious lifestyle, it will likely be best to stick with traditional health insurance. The same if you have a chronic condition or need more coverage than these programs can provide. Other options include Medicare or Medicaid.

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