Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about Obamacare. The newspapers, talking heads, blogospheres, and social media outlets are all abuzz with stories of angry citizens losing their health insurance, people shocked at their unexpected premium increases, and the frustration of millions trying to sign up on the healthcare.gov website. Many are upset about being forced to participate in a national health insurance program that violates their moral convictions or personal liberties.
But thanks to former Democrat Congressman Tom Periello of Virginia and Democrat Senator Max Baucus of Montana, there is an opt out provision for those who are members of a recognized health care sharing ministry (HCSM). Little is known about HCSM’s, which have been around since the early 1990’s, but they are an alternative to conventional health insurance.
The most important thing people need to understand about HCSM’s is they are NOT insurance. Whereas the relationship between a policyholder and an insurance company is contractual, the relationship within an HCSM is a covenantal agreement between individual participants.
HCSM’s are not-for-profit religious organizations that act as clearinghouses for people who hold similar strong beliefs and who wish to share their medical expenses with each other. HCSM’s organize the efforts of their participants by funneling financial support towards those participants who incur medical expenses.
Here’s how it works: Each month the HCSM publishes a newsletter which it distributes to all participants. The newsletter lists participants who have incurred legitimate medical expenses, and it directs other participants to send a previously agreed amount of money to those with medical expenses. The gift givers are also encouraged to pray for those to whom they send money. Recipients are given a list of participants the HCSM has assigned to send them money, and when they receive it, they cross that gift giver’s name off the list. Those assigned gift givers who are late in sending funds are reported to the HCSM who reminds them of their commitment, and if they continue not to send gifts as they agreed, they will be dropped from the program.
There are no financial reserves, no legal protections, and no lawsuits; there are only thousands of participants helping each other with medical expenses, organized by an HCSM. Eleven months of the year gifts are sent to participants, and one month a gift is sent to the HCSM to cover the costs of running the organization.
HCSM’s are not for everyone. They hold strict lifestyle and moral guidelines for participation: no tobacco, drug use, or sex outside of marriage, and only moderate alcohol use is allowed. Some require overweight participants to demonstrate good faith efforts and progress towards losing weight. All participants are ultimately responsible for paying their medical bills, and participants are expected to negotiate lower fees from their health care providers before submitting a medical share need to the HCSM. HCSM’s don’t pay for preventive care; mammograms, pap smears, and annual physical exams; all these services are paid for by the participants themselves. Participants must be active church attendees, and every HCSM requires a pastor’s signature verifying a participant’s commitment to the HCSM’s lifestyle and faith obligations.
The cost of participating in a HCSM is reasonable. The most expensive sharing amount I found for a family with three or more members is less than $400 a month. In some HCSM’s an individual can be covered for less than $50 per month. If participants desire more sharing support than the basic program provides, (depending on the HCSM, between $125,000 and $250,000 per incident) participants can secure larger gifts from other participants by agreeing to share more on a monthly basis. There are no lifetime limits for participants with multiple medical incidents.
There are many attractive features of HCSM’s. First of all is the cost. HCSM monthly sharing requirements are oftentimes considerably less expensive than conventional insurance premiums, particularly for the self-employed, larger families or older individuals. Secondly, the paperwork and bureaucracy of HCSM’s are a fraction of those associated with conventional health insurance: no double-talk, reams of applications or defective government websites. And finally, most HCSM participants appreciate the personal touch of sending not only money, but prayers and encouragement to those who are suffering from medical challenges.
There are four HCSM’s in existence today:
1) Samaritan Ministries- http://samaritanministries.org/
2) Christian Health Ministries- http://www.chministries.org/
3) Christian Care Medishare- http://mychristiancare.org/medi-share/
4) Liberty Healthshare- http://www.libertyhealthshare.org/
With one exception, HCSM’s operate in all 50 states (Christian Care Medi-Share no longer operates in Montana). I know dozens of families who have participated in HCSM’s over the years, and I don’t know any participant who has been dissatisfied. The primary reason for participants quitting an HCSM is when they are able to secure health insurance coverage paid for by someone else (employer, Medicare, etc.).
After years of waffling, Linda and I recently dropped our conventional health insurance and enrolled in an HCSM. Philosophically and economically, we found the HSCM more satisfying. We are participating at the most expensive level, and our monthly obligation is still 20% less expensive than our Obamacare alternative; and, we no longer must pay a $6450 deductible first. For those folks who are looking for an alternative to conventional insurance, I encourage you to check out the links above and see if a health care sharing ministry is for you.