Health sharing ministries, a non-insurance option for individuals and families seeking to lower their medical bills and get the prayer support from members who are part of a community, have gained immense popularity since the Affordable Care Act went into effect.
Yet there is some give and take when volunteering to forego traditional health insurance. Individuals and families who opt-out of insurance plans health sharing ministries understand that while many medical bills can be covered or “shared” among community members, certain bills will not be paid for when specific instances occur. So why should a family that doesn’t carry traditional health insurance coverage add supplemental health insurance to fit within their financial portfolio?
The reason is simple – no one can predict the future. Like life insurance, supplemental health insurance is protection for the unknown.
Supplemental Health Insurance Helps Pay For The Unexpected
Example: Some health sharing ministries ask members to stay within a specific network of doctors in order to keep costs contained and medical bills affordable. However, if you suffer an accident and are taken to a hospital that is outside of the health sharing ministry’s network, you could be responsible for the amount a health sharing ministry won’t cover because you are out-of-network. That’s when supplemental health insurance can help.
Supplemental insurance, which is also known as accident insurance or critical illness insurance, is a cash benefit that can help pay for medical bills that you are responsible for out-of-pocket, or the money can be used for other expenses like the mortgage or child care. Bundled accident and critical illness plans that are offered through HealthValues take the guesswork out of what kind of plan to purchase and cover both accidents and critical illnesses.
Situations Where Supplemental Health Insurance Can Pay The Bills
- Out-of-network treatment that a health sharing ministry doesn’t cover beyond the reasonable and customary charges.
- A variety of unintentional accidents, like sprains and breaks caused by a slip and fall, cause 21 million medical visits each year. And more than 3.4 million children experience an accident in their own household every year.
- Heart attacks, which strike approximately 735,000 men and women every year.
- Burn injuries that account for nearly 500,00 medical treatments every year.
- Stroke: Nearly 800,000 men and women have a stroke each year, and it is the leading cause of long-term disability.
- Life-threatening cancers: Approximately 68% of individuals with cancer survive more than five years. Lung cancer, as an example, only has a 16% survival rate and is as prevalent today as it was in the 1970s.
- Diabetes, which is the number of cause of kidney failure, sends 44% of individuals into kidney failure. Kidney failure can also be caused by high blood pressure.
- Organ Transplant: A name is added to the national transplant list every 10 minutes for a major organ transplant.
- Paralysis can occur from not only accidents but disease. Stroke and multiple sclerosis are just two conditions that can cause paralysis. Today approximately 5.4 million people suffer from some level of paralysis.
- Supplemental insurance also helps when an annual household portion has yet to be met, and extra cash is needed to pay medical bills.
How Health Sharing Ministries Work
Health sharing ministries are comprised of a group of people that have agreed to “share” each other’s medical bills. With most programs, your monthly portion pays for someone else’s medical expenses. If you incur a medical bill, you receive a check that comes from someone else’s monthly share.
In 2016 the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries reported that memberships had more than doubled since health care reform became law. These ministries have been in existence for more than 20 years but have recently grown in popularity because of a special clause under the Affordable Care Act.
The Affordable Care Act mandates that all Americans must purchase their own health insurance if it is not offered through their employer, and if they do not, they must pay a penalty of $695 per person or 2.5% of their household income at tax time. However, certain organizations receive exemptions from this rule. Exemptions are based on certain financial hardships, some life events, and membership in some groups like health sharing ministries, which are a qualifying organization.
One reason health sharing ministries have become more attractive to consumers is that they are traditionally less expensive than major medical health insurance plans in the marketplace, especially for families with multiple children. As health care pricing continues to rise and the responsibility of medical debt falls more and more on the consumer, it will be interesting to see if the popularity of health sharing ministries continues to build momentum.
So how do health sharing ministries really work? Let’s take a look.
The Structure of Health Sharing Ministries
Health sharing ministries typically have an annual household portion that has to be paid before medical bills can be shared with the community for payment. Similar to health insurance deductibles, annual household portions are more affordable if the total out-of-pocket amount is higher. For example, a family of four could pay almost $750 a month if they select a $1,250 annual share portion. But the same family might only have to pay around $250 a month if they choose to pay $10,000 out-of-pocket before their medical bills can be shared.
Cost Savings For Health Sharing vs. Health Insurance
- The monthly price of health sharing ministries is traditionally less expensive than health insurance.
- Qualifying medical bills are paid at 100% once the annual household portion is met. When a health insurance deductible is met, consumers are usually required to pay an additional percentage of coinsurance.
Benefits Health Insurance Takes Care of That Health Sharing Ministries Do Not
1. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies are required to covered all citizens, regardless of any health conditions they may have. Health sharing ministries typically do not cover medical bills for pre-existing conditions until members have gone through a waiting period without any signs or symptoms, which many times is about three years total. Then, there is a yearly cap of how much money the member can receive if their pre-existing condition returns.
2. Routine and preventive care is not covered by health sharing ministries. Since the ministries are not insurance and thus, have lower monthly pricing, the belief is the extra money saved can be used for preventive services. Health sharing ministries are specifically for unpredictable and catastrophic medical occurrences.
3. Major medical insurance has no maximums or limits on how much coverage an individual can receive. Under the rules of health sharing ministries, there are limits to how much coverage a family can receive.
4. Because health based ministries adhere to living by Biblical, Christian standards, maternity is not covered for unwed mothers.
5. Marketplace major medical health insurance plans allow adult children to stay on their parent’s plan until the age of 26. With a sharing ministry membership, they will typically cover adult children only to age 23.
6. Health sharing ministries are not health insurance. Insurance companies offer a level of security and financial protection health sharing ministries cannot logistically support.
Why Christians Like Health Sharing Ministries
There are many reasons why members of health sharing ministries prefer their community over working with a health insurance company:
- Individuals and families would rather give their hard-earned money to someone in need who shares their same Christian values rather than a health insurance company.
- The concept of sharing ministries align with their religious beliefs and doesn’t fund abortions or emergency contraception.
- It’s a more affordable option, especially for families with more than one child. Sharing ministries typically don’t require payment for every individual child.
- Sharing ministries offer a community of prayer support. Prayer is very important to everyday operations within a sharing ministry. Along with getting medical bills shared, words of encouragement and prayer notes are sent to members who might be struggling with their health. In some instances, a chaplain is also available online or over the phone to pray with members.
Are There Rules For Membership?
Joining a health sharing ministry community is not meant to be taken lightly. Members must commit to a Christian lifestyle, which means living by Biblical standards, helping their brother or sister in the faith, and worshipping with fellow believers regularly. Members must give testimony that they are Christian, and they must commit to a healthy lifestyle. Smoking or illegal drug use is not permitted for at least 12 months before joining a sharing community. Sexual relations outside of marriage are forbidden. If adult children are on a parent’s membership, they must also adhere to the same principles as their parents.
This outline hopefully has provided both the pros and cons of health sharing ministries and demonstrated how supplemental health insurance can help pay for out-of-pocket expenses not covered by sharing communities. Health sharing ministries are not for everyone but do provide an affordable option for healthy Christian families seeking community support and lower out-of-pocket health care expenses.
Click here to learn more about supplemental health insurance offered by HealthValues.