Health Sharing Programs: The Complete Guide to Medical Cost Sharing

By Lauren
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    Mark and I have been part of a medical cost sharing ministry for a few years now, and we LOVE it!

    When Mark quit his job to come work full time with me, he lost his healthcare insurance benefit package. So we started shopping around for health insurance products. Because of the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”), we knew that we had to make a decision, but we needed something affordable that could fit within our budget.

    Nothing seemed to fit just right, but in our search, we 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, we joined a Health Sharing program and dropped our health insurance. It saves us thousands of dollars! Plus, these heath care sharing ministries are exempt from the requirements of the ACA mandate to purchase health insurance. That means we don't have to pay a penalty!

    health care sharing ministries

    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:

    1. Christian Healthcare Ministries, this is the one we use and love it.
    2. Samaritan Ministries,
    3. Medi-Share, and
    4. Liberty Healthshare

    Health Care Sharing Ministries – Explained

    1. What are Medical Cost Sharing Ministries?

    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.

    2. How do they work?

    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.

    3. Are there Restrictions?

    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.

    4. Are there programs for families?

    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 us, our children tend to go to the doctor more frequently, so we 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.

    5. What is the difference between the health care sharing ministries?

    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.

    This chart is the best way I've seen to compare them and what is included with each. Check it out and see for yourself.

    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.

    COMMENTS

  • Hi, very interestIngrid!
    So if you use health share for your husband and yourself, what insurance you use for your kids?
    Ola

    • Hi Ola, here in NYS, we have a great program for children that we qualify for since we are self-employed. But, many of my friends have their kids on sharing plans too, and it works out great.

  • After years of research and fear of pulling of the trigger, we joined Christian Healthcare Ministries. I love the mission and the people I have interacted with so far. We recently dealt with some heath problems with our son so will see how it all works out with payment/submitting bills. Thanks for this article!

  • Great article Lauren. I agree that Christian healthcare sharing ministries are a godsend to those without insurance, who would also otherwise have to pay the penalty.

    My husband and I signed up for one just before I got pregnant and it’s been amazing. Before we hit the deductible they still negotiated a lot of each of our bills, and we pay so much less than the e-surance quotes.

    I hope it’s OK that I give a link to the site I found on Google when I was looking between two of these, Samaritan Ministries and Medi-Share. It broke down exactly how Medi-Share worked and how much I would pay:

    http://www.medisharereviews.com

    I’m sure Liberty, Samaritan and the others work very well too.

  • Jeff,
    Each plan has its own way of covering surgeries, so you will want to read their websites to see the details. Four of the major plans are listed at the beginning of this article. Of course, you can call each plan too with specific questions that you might have.

    • I am an independent contractor me and my husband in Fort Lauder dale … I did not see coverage in my area …which company does it here please

  • Hi I’m interested am a type 2 diabetic only go to doc 4 times a year generally healthy live in Wisconsin who can I find in this network of sharing

    • Honestly, if you only go to the doctor four times a year it might be easier to just pay out of pocket. Your average doctor’s visit costs $200 or so depending on the degree of your illness, and if you’re in good shape and only need things like blood pressure medication and insulin to be prescribed that would be the cheaper route. When filling your prescriptions you can use the GoodRX website to find the best deals on all of your medications too. If I used my insurance to pay for all of my medications I would have to pay around $380 per month, but by paying out of pocket I actually end up spending less than $100. That’s just my opinion though, and you should ALWAYS ask for a paper prescription for each individual medication so that you can fill it at a certain pharmacy and get the best discounts. I might have to go to 4 pharmacies each month, but they’re all within a 2 mile radius and I can just drive around and pick them all up the same day.

      • The trouble is, in some states, a physician is required to call in a prescription (that is the case in NY), and you can’t take your paper prescription wherever you want to. In those states, you will have to do the research ahead of time to find the best prices and let your physician know which pharmacy to call. After I joined a cost sharing ministry, I had to do a lot of research to find the cheapest price for meds I have to take daily. Costco pharmacy was by far the cheapest, but GoodRx will occasionally send coupons that I can still use at Costco to lower my cost even more.

      • If you live in a state that the Rx has to be called in, just pick one to have the doctor send it to. Then once you’ve done your research on prices, have it transferred from the original pharmacy to the one that is cheaper. I have done that before and actually, Kroger even matched the price on one of them so I didn’t have to go to 2 different pharmacies.

  • Loved reading this! I am already a member of Liberty Healthshare and have been pleased. I was paying 1200 – 2K per month for 15 years for bcbsil insurance that I was barely able to use and unable to recoup my costs as my husband is a type 1 diabetic. I was thinking that maybe I was missing something – I am a bit skeptical about everything and being a business owner in Illinois isn’t helping. Thank you for the vote and for going out on a ledge with this subject.

    • Michele – does LIberty Health Share really allow type 1 diabetes in their phase-in pre-existing plan? We need to find a plan and are looking at this but wondering about this as he is a type 1 diabetic.

    • I have been looking into the Healthshare plans and leaning toward Liberty Healthshare after reading many articles. Very interested in hearing the pros and cons from those with experience with Liberty and input on the other Healthshare plans.

      Thank you,
      Louise

      • I’ve been using Liberty Health Share for a year now and am still learning the ins and outs, but have been very pleased so far. I have a pre-exisiting condition (epilepsy) and take daily meds to prevent seizures. I only see my neurologist once a year for check-ups. My doctor visit this year will go toward my annual unshared amount (the ‘deductable’ part of the plan) and next year (after being a member for 24 months) my regular check ups will be able to be shared. (The longer you stay a member, the better the benefits become.) My neurologist was willing to work with my plan and gave me the self-pay discount. It took me six months of researching and talking with a very helpful Liberty Healthshare representative before we dove in. I’m so glad we did. We save about $800 a month from the insurance plan we had before. I share the plan with our son because my husband has insurance coverage through his job.

      • I am a Liberty member and couldn’t be happier. From the big things like reimbursement to the little things like talking on the phone with a real person, not someone who reads from a screen.
        Gabi

  • I rarely need medical services, am 57 in good health, non-tobacco, average weight. I have had a heart attack 3 years ago and one stent inserted by a cath. Would this pre-existing condition probably prevent acceptance?

  • Good Article for those curious about Health Share Ministries. I want to do a deep dive into the history of this type of coverage, I understand there are over 100 (how do I find them), costing analysis, and customer satisfaction, and what to watch for. I’m having a hard time finding more than 7 active Health Share Ministries. Do you have a suggestion?

  • Good article and good comments! My wife and I are members of Samaritan Ministries, and we love it and the people in it. I don’t think I would ever want to leave it.

    But my question is connected with Len’s above. A practicing psychologist in our church asked me this morning if there were any health cost sharing organizations out there that are NOT specifically Christian. She has a client who claims to be an atheist and who wanted to know about this. I told our friend that I wasn’t aware of any, and that I didn’t know whether such a non-Christian organization could in fact succeed, as a matter of principle. But I said I would inquire. Anybody know? Thanks.

  • We have been contemplating switching to a medical cost sharing coverage. It is really hard to make the switch. We still have one child on our insurance and she is graduating from college this year. We are self employed in electrical contracting and now pay over $2000/ month for insurance through the IBEW. Far higher than we should for our household budget, even as a business expense. We live in Alaska and I believe there is now only one other option, also exorbitant for far less – our current plan is one of the ‘Cadillac plans’. We are in our late 50’s, very healthy, work out, super physically active, but I have had melanoma and I have a lifelong well managed thyroid condition – neither of these are lifestyle related and I am very proactive about managing both. Still, it sounds like they would be considered ‘pre-existing’. Hence, one reason we have been hesitant to change but the current costs are becoming more and more financially incapacitating.

    • Stay away from Medical Cost Sharing, INC. I believe this is a fraudulent company with very poor business practices.

  • Hi, I am also trying to look at the comparison chart and the links are not working for me. Any suggested solutions?
    Thanks!

  • Can you send me the link directly to my email? I am having the same problem with opening the link above for the comparison chart.

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