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When I became the sole breadwinner of my home, I started shopping around for health insurance products. Because of the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”), I knew that I had to make a decision, but I needed something affordable that could fit within our budget.
Nothing seemed to fit just right, but in my search, I ran across something totally different – Medical Cost Sharing Ministries. These are not health care or health insurance. But they are an affordable way to plan for unforeseen medical expenses. So, after doing some research, I joined a Health Sharing program and dropped my health insurance. It saves me thousands of dollars! Plus, these heath care sharing ministries are exempt from the requirements of the ACA mandate to purchase health insurance. That means I don't have to pay a penalty!
Now, just to be clear, Medical Cost Sharing is NOT “a cheap insurance program” or “a healthcare alternative”. It is something completely different. Keep reading, you'll see what I mean.
A few of the major health care sharing ministries are:
Boiled down, medical cost sharing, or health sharing ministries, are a group of like-minded individuals that agree to come together and help each other pay their medical expenses. They offer faith-based programs for planning for unforeseen medical expenses. They're not for everyone, but they are definitely worth exploring!
Since it is not health insurance, they don't have to play by the same rules. For instance, since there are no network requirements, you can go to whatever doctor you like. Once you enroll, you get a membership card, and when your doctor asks for your insurance, you can just give them your card. For many of the above programs, it will be processed in the same way.
On the rare occasion that the doctor will not accept your membership, these health sharing programs do pay in cash. That means you can always get reimbursed if you choose to stay with that doctor and pay out of pocket.
Basically, everyone pays in a certain monthly share amount, and for your own expenses, you are responsible for covering an “annual personal responsibility”, or “unshared amount” (like a deductible). Then, the rest of your medical expenses are shared among the group from what they have paid in – in many cases up to $1 million per incident! Here's a brief video explanation that might help.
Yes. Since they are faith-based ministries, they do have different guidelines (like smoking, or certain pre-existing health or lifestyle-related conditions). In which case they will decline membership.
I know Liberty Healthshare does take people with pre-existing health conditions – they accept about 97% of them. These types of conditions may be handled in a few different ways. The condition may be phased in. If that's the case, members do not share costs for that condition during the first year. Then during years two and three of membership, members share up to $50,000 of eligible expenses to treat that condition. However, some pre-existing conditions might never be shareable. You can always just call an ask.
Yes! They have programs for the entire family. Your family can participate in a very comprehensive option for under $500 a month, which is a maximum. There is a range of options less expensive than that depending on how much you want shared.
For me, my children tend to go to the doctor more frequently, so they have a health insurance plan for them, and we use a medical cost-sharing ministry since we go to the doctor less frequently. But there are options that do include wellness visits.
All four of the above medical cost sharing ministries are very similar, but there are some differences among them. The largest differences are in their acceptance guidelines, if they process medical bills electronically or not, and if they allow cost sharing of alternative or natural treatments.
Beyond that, I found this FAQ extremely helpful. It had a very informative and clear answer for every question I could even think of asking.
If you are looking for an affordable way to handle your medical expenses, a health sharing ministry could be just what you need.