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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Look At The Three Big Christian Healthcare Sharing Options

UPDATE: MARCH 2017
We have received more feedback on this blog post than any other. Over 20,000 views and hundreds of comments, emails, questions, and shares. We are still using our Christian healthcare sharing alternative for our insurance and we love it! As far as we know everything in the following article is still accurate and relevant.



Ok, quick recap.

Like most Americans, Danielle and I disagree with many of the aspects of Obamacare, but unlike most Americans we're not just going to accept it, especially since it so very blatantly goes against our beliefs. It is also astronomically expensive. So we have been on the hunt for an alternative solution to healthcare for the last few months and have been researching several Christian sharing ministries, namely: Medi-Share, Samaritan Ministries, and Christian Healthcare Ministries. I think all three have different strengths that will satisfy the needs of their individual members, but let me break down what we've found as briefly and simply as possible.

DISCLAIMER
Just because there are parts of these programs that didn't appeal to us doesn't mean they're not the right fit for you. Danielle and I are both healthy, young, and on the verge of starting a family, so those factors weighed heavily on our decision. We encourage you to get some literature from each sharing organization and even call them to ask questions to find out which one is right for you.

Medi-Share
MEDI-SHARE
This is the big one. This is the one we keep hearing about on our local Christian radio station, but just because they advertise doesn't mean they're the best (yes, I'm thinking of you, GEICO!) Anyway, Medi-Share has been around since 1993 and has an excellent track record of providing for its members' needs. They say that in the last 16 years every eligible need has been covered—eligible being the key word here.

One example given by a Medi-Share representative was the story of a member who was injured in a car accident and required a lot of medical work, but since the person was intoxicated at the time of the accident the expense was not covered. It's easy to think that they should give the guy a break, but at the same time Medi-Share's whole point is that by living a more biblical lifestyle you will be healthier and have fewer medical needs, which is understandable, because...

"Too many rules is legalistic, but too much grace is enabling."
—Rachel Cruze, Financial Peace University


PROS
  • They negotiate your medical bills for you, working directly with your doctor
  • More lenient on preexisting conditions
  • If you meet certain health criteria you can get a reduction in your monthly share
  • They will help fund up to two adoptions per household with an amount determined by your Annual Household Portion (how much you pay every year for coverage)
  • Great plan if you like a more "hands off" approach when dealing with medical bills

CONS
  • They can be picky about who you use for a doctor, preferring you use one of their "in-network" doctors, or that you ask your doctor to join their network
  • Expensive. Medi-Share functions a lot like a high deductible insurance plan where you pay a certain amount called the "Annual Yearly Portion" FIRST before they'll kick-in any extra
  • Their criteria pertaining to adoption seems very strict and suited for the more expensive plans
  • You have to be accepted into the program. Not everyone gets accepted.

Click here for more details about how Medi-Share works. And if you're curious, you can read their guidelines or check out their "Share Calculator" to see what your Annual Household Portion would be.

If you decide to use Medi-Share, and appreciate all the research we've provided in this post, please use this referral link: http://bit.ly/2mDuhc7. Thank you!

SAMARITAN MINISTRIES
From the get-go we really liked the look of Samaritan Ministries' healthcare options. Again, their track record is good and a lot of people say more good things about them than not. We even have friends who use it and recommended it to us highly.

With Medi-Share, your monthly share is sent directly to the organization and then they sort through all the claims and make the payments. With Samaritan's Ministries, however, you pay your monthly share directly to the individual in need. That's right, every month Samaritan's Ministries sends you a name and address of another member and your monthly portion is sent directly to them. Yes, it feels weird, but members claim it's a very exciting way to handle medical expenses because you know where your money is going, you get to pray for and encourage the people you're helping, and you get their help in return.

Samaritan's Ministries has a $250,000 limit, meaning they'll only pay your medical costs up to that amount. They have a program called "Save to Share" to help with larger medical expenses, but that requires another payment in addition to your monthly share. It's your responsibility to set this money aside every year so that if another member ever has a claim more than $250,000 you may be called upon to help pay that burden.

PROS
  • Simple. No nonsense approach. No red tape.
  • Low yearly rates
  • Christians caring for Christians. You send your monthly share directly to fellow believers in need.
  • Low deductibles
  • You can go to any doctor without them having to join the ministry's network or be "approved"

    UPDATE
  • Samaritan Ministries can assist members with "patient advocacy services" to negotiate lower rates and improve the relationship between the member and the provider.

CONS
  • Because we are getting ready to start having kids, child wellness is a big concern for us, especially in the first few months after they're born when they're going to the doctor often. I spoke to a Samaritan Ministries representative about this and, I'm sad to say, they have no post-natal care options. Regular wellness visits, vaccinations, anything "routine" is not covered.

    UPDATE
  • Publishable maternity needs include bills for prenatal care, delivery, postnatal care, miscarriage, and congenital conditions. Well checks and vaccinations are not publishable.

  • You have to pay your medical bills 100% out of pocket and Samaritan's Ministries reimburses you for the amount. Not a great deal if you're just starting out and don't have a lot of liquid cash.


    UPDATE
  • Apparently you have two choices when paying for your medical services: you can either pay up front, or negotiate with your hospital to have your bills paid through Samaritan's sharing organization. If you pay up front you will get reimbursed, but that also leaves no room for Samaritan Ministries to help you negotiate down the cost of your hospital bills. Once the bills are paid, the process is closed. So it's best to just explain to your hospital that your bills will be paid through Samaritan Ministries, submit your bills to the organization, and pay your hospital as the members' checks come in, usually in 30-to-60 days.
  • Here is a very comprehensive list of positives and negatives, but the negatives are more concerns than anything. This is still a very positive review of the program.

Honestly, we found very few negatives with this option. Samaritan Ministries seems to be a great program, just not right for us at this time in our lives.

CHRISTIAN HEALTHCARE MINISTRIES
This program is very different from the first two and it's the one that Danielle and I have decided suits us the best. We like it because it offers a variety of membership levels that you can choose from depending on how much coverage you want. You can even choose different levels for different family members, which is a huge perk considering I'm a healthy 32-year-old dude who won't likely need any serious medical care for a while, and Danielle is a healthy 27-year-old dudette who is likely to become pregnant. So, yeah, she needs more coverage than me.

Amanda, at www.thepelsers.com, talks about how she and her family saved $600 a month, $7,000 a year, on health insurance by switching to Christian Healthcare Ministries. Click here to read her article.

UPDATE: DECEMBER 20, 2016
We recently learned that there is a $125,000 cap for auto accidents. CHM expects that your auto insurance company will cover whatever damages you incur in the event of an accident—which means you are responsible for having the most coverage your auto insurance will provide—but if once that insurance is used up, CHM will step in to cover the rest up to $125,000.

What if the damages are immense—say, two million dollars? Here is the response from CHM representative Jason Spencer.

"Yes, that is correct. We would only share up to $125,000. Two million in bills, so you know, is very difficult to incur. The most we have ever had is a little over one million in bills, and that was over several years for a cancer patient. Between the hospital's write-offs and other sources (maybe even court winnings), there is no way you would ever be stuck with almost a million out of pocket. No insurance company would ever cover that, either, to be clear."

PROS
  • They have a good post-natal care program covering the routine visits of the child for the first three months.
    UPDATE
  • I was told two different things from two different representatives, but the second actually referred to their guidelines, so that's the one I'm going with. He said that any non-routine medical bills your baby incurs in the first three months are eligible for sharing. Normal immunization shots and wellness visits are not.
  • Different levels of coverage make this a highly flexible option, and those coverage levels can be changed whenever you want.
  • Very affordable
  • One person is considered one unit. So a family of two means you have to purchase two units, and the same with a family of three. But any families larger than three—be it five, ten or even twenty—are still considered THREE units.
  • Has a separate program called Brothers Keeper to help with extremely large medical bills. This seems very similar to Samaritan Ministries' "Save to Share" program.
  • They also have a Reduction Department that aims to help you negotiate with your doctor to get the lowest possible prices on your healthcare.
  • They are the oldest of the "big three," having been around since 1984.

CONS
  • I can't say we found many cons with this program. It suits our needs perfectly. But, like with any of these sharing ministries, you have to take a step of faith to get involved with one, which is kinda scary.

    UPDATE
  • If you are a Medicaid or Medicare member, Christian Healthcare will act as a secondary insurance provider. In other words they won't publish your need unless you've already been turned down by your primary insurance provider, if you even have one.

    UPDATE
  • Their processing department is very slow. Needs are usually processed in about three months, but we experienced a wait of about five months with some of the medical bills from our son's birth in June. When I asked CHM why it was taking so long I was told that due to the overwhelming amount of people signing up since Obamacare was enacted, CHM has been inundated with needs. In one respect this is a good thing because it means the ministry is growing, which means more people helping other people, but for those that don't have a lot of liquid cash it could mean waiting a while for CHM to send a check to cover your medical expenses.

So, that's that. Stay tuned, because I'm sure we'll be blogging more soon about our experiences with healthcare sharing ministries!

Keep pinchin' :-)

If you found this information to be helpful, and choose to use Christian Healthcare Ministries, would you consider signing up under us, as a thank you for all our research? You can use this link to do that Christian Healthcare Ministries. Thanks!


RELATED POSTS
The Horrendous Healthcare Hunt Begins!
April 11, 2014

The Horrendous Healthcare Hunt, Part 2: The Why
May 27, 2014

Life Without Obamacare Is Beautiful... But Complicated
June 3, 2014

30 comments:

  1. Very informative! My wife and I had wondered about these kind of alternatives to traditional health insurance. Since my goal is to have my wife able to come home to be with the baby in January, the great insurance she gets through her work will be coming to an end after the pregnancy. We could get her on my insurance, which is what we will probably do, but it isn't as good. The deductible is pretty high.

    I wondered if a super high deductible HSA might work too. For people who live on a Dave Ramsey budget, paying the smaller costs related to healthcare might not be as bad, as long as you are covered for the "big stuff" with your healthcare plan.

    Keep us posted how the Christian Healthcare Ministries works out! :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading Todd! We will definitely keep blogging about this as we continue our adventure into healthcare sharing.

      Most share ministries say that in order to be eligible for coverage the pregnancy has to happen AFTER becoming a member—usually 30 days after. But in our research we've found a lot of compassion for families and pregnant women, so I wonder what kind of luck you'd have trying to negotiate some coverage with a share ministry even though the pregnancy has already taken place. I just wonder about someone like Samaritan Ministries where members pay directly to members if you could find some compassionate person to help you out—IF the ministry will publish the need that is. Just a thought.

      It sounds like you're better off going with your insurance for now though, even though the deductible is high. But, maybe for the next one? .... :)

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  2. Hello! I’m so glad that you and your family have decided to look into health care sharing ministries, and I know that you’ll find it to be a blessing in your lives. While I wish we could’ve been the HCSM for your family, I understand that everyone’s needs are different. And if anything changes in the future I hope you’ll give us a second look. With that said, however, I’d like to just address some of your cons if I can.

    Our guidelines are very generous in regards to maternity needs, and a large portion of our membership is made up with people just like you: young families that are growing. For maternity, our guidelines state: “Publishable maternity needs include bills for prenatal care, delivery, postnatal care, miscarriage, and congenital conditions. Publishable services include those of doulas (up to $500), midwives, doctors, and/or nurse practitioners.” You are correct in that well checks and vaccinations are not publishable, but having little ones of my own, my wife and I have found very cheap options for vaccinations, and with SMI’s low monthly cost, we’re able to budget for those routine visits.

    I think there might be some confusion about how needs are processed and shared, based on your comment that SMI expects you to pay everything upfront, only then to be reimbursed later. That’s not how it works. To give you my personal story, I was diagnosed this past January with a tumor on my lung, which required thoracic surgery to remove 1/3 of my right lung along with the tumor. This was a shock for my family since, like you, I’m young, healthy, and never smoked a day in my life. Nevertheless this was the path the Lord brought us to, so we face it in faith. I racked up over $100,000 in bills. Like you, I didn’t have that cash laying around. I gave a very small good faith deposit to the hospital only; not the surgeon, not the anesthesiologist, not the pulmonologist, just the hospital. I explained to my providers how the process works, and that they can expect payment between 30 and 60 days from the time I send in their bills to SMI. My providers were accommodating, and were even happy with how quickly they’d be paid, since oftentimes health insurance companies take much much longer to pay providers. I then received all their bills, and sent them on to SMI’s office where they processed and published them. I then received over 200 checks with cards and notes and prayers from believers all over the country. I even received a picture that was drawn for me by a little girl; it was a picture of herself praying for me by her bedside. It brought me and my wife to tears, and we had many moments of worship as cards like that came pouring in. We then deposited those checks and paid the bills. We didn’t pay %100 upfront, and our financial, spiritual, and medical need was completely met through the Body of Christ.

    Finally, you mentioned CHM’s reduction department. Most providers work with self-pay patients and offer significant discounts because they don't have to deal with the hassle of a third party payment system. If, however, a provider seems unwilling to offer competitive rates for their services to self-pay patients, Samaritan can assist members with patient advocacy services to negotiate fair rates and improve the relationship between the member and the provider. In fact, SMI’s advocacy services assisted me in receiving a $30,000 discount off of my hospital bill!

    I hope that clears up any confusion, and again I want to express my joy that you guys are seeking out these Biblical options.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cody,

      Thank you so much for your feedback! I think it says a lot about your program that a representative would seek to follow-up with blogs like ours to offer correction and different points of view. So thank you!

      We've made some changes to the text above to reflect your corrections. We hope the blog is more accurate now.

      Delete
    2. Your blog entry was a pleasure to read, and I really am glad that more and more families like you are discovering the blessings of Health Care Sharing Ministries. It’s always exciting to see different bloggers put in the time and effort to do the research necessary to provide comprehensive overviews like the one you provided; so kudos. I pray that our Lord will bless you with a healthy, happy, and full house! Cheers.

      Delete
  3. One thing that's not always obvious with CHM, just for your readers' perspective, is that they will not share a need until you've been turned down from Medicaid. Many Christians don't want to be on Medicaid, even if they're qualified, and so that can be a shock when you have a need if you didn't notice it in their guidelines.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks James, in all the scouring we did to find out about CHM I never saw that, and it is a shame that they require that you first use Medicaid if you are eligible. In our circumstances I don't believe we are, so that shouldn't be an issue but is definitely something for others to consider if they are eligible but don't want to use Medicaid.

      Delete
    2. Trisha, it's true if you are a Medicaid member. In fact, most Christian healthcare sharing options want you to use whatever insurance you may have FIRST before submitting a need. My wife and I have nothing, and CHM generously took care of all of our medical needs when our baby boy was born.

      Delete
    3. Ok, so if I do not want to join medicaid for personal reasons, even though we qualify, CHM would still share our needs? We have no insurance of any kind and are currently Samaritan members, but I was curious how CHM compared to Samaritan.

      Delete
    4. Correct. As far as I know, CHM does not require you to be a part of any other type of insurance program.

      Delete
  4. This is a terrific writeup of the sharing ministry options. The Washington Post did an article last week on many people opting out of Obamacare (http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/opting-out-of-obamacare/2014/06/05/126e03de-df7e-11e3-810f-764fe508b82d_story.html), focusing on people who have joined ministries.

    People should also know there are two other ministries, Liberty Healthshare and Altru Healthshare. Liberty may or may not qualify for the exemption under Obamacare, and it looks like Altrua definitely does not. So the three listed are the only three that are definitely exempt (meaning members don't have to pay the tax for being uninsured).

    Sean Parnell
    author, The Self-Pay Patient: Affordable Healthcare Choices in the Age of Obamacare
    www.theselfpaypatient.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. His Sean, thanks for the link to the article. The reporter did a good job. And thanks for mentioning those other ministries. It helps for people to know that there are LOTS of other options out there.

      Delete
    2. Update: it looks like Altrua just became a recognized health care sharing ministry at the end of 2014.

      Delete
    3. Meaning you can avoid the fine under Obamacare by membership in Altrua.

      Delete
    4. Liberty is also recognized through their partnership with Gospel Light: https://www.libertyhealthshare.org/healthcare-exempt-from-obamacare

      Delete
  5. This is really a valuable post. Nice to find and read. The info shared is helpful and valuable. Will grab it. Thank you for sharing.
    Herbal Incense

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's been a year. How has your health care choice turned out? Are you still happy with your decision?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Honestly so far we have been happy with our choice to go with Christian Healthcare Ministries. We have yet to actually have a posted need yet, which isn't a bad thing because we have been healthy and safe! That will be changing though as I, Dani, am pregnant with our first child. We don't expect any problems or issues, and any time we have called or contacted them with a question they have been very helpful. My older sister joined CHM just after we did, and she is also having her first pregnancy since joining, and so far has not had any issues with them sending her the money to cover her medical costs.

      Delete
  7. A great comparison of the big 3, but there are a few more. You can see a complete list of health sharing ministries at https://pricinghealthcare.com/vendors/types/healthSharingMinistries/110

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey, congrats on the birth of your child! Can you post a quick update as to the experience of covering the delivery/post natal care? My wife and I have one son and are considering CHM, but want to make sure having another child will be a good experience on CHM.

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  9. Do any of these cover depression and anxiety meds and or treatment?

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  10. I don't understand the "post the need" or the "publishing" terms. Does that mean when you have a claim it gets posted and you wait for individuals to reimburse you? Could you expound on this please?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry to take so long to reply. Your interpretation is mostly correct, although the term has a slightly different meaning depending on who you're dealing with. When you have a need you submit it to the provider (be it CHM, Samaritan's, or Medi-Share), and if they find that the need meets their criteria of acceptance they will "publish" it, or "make it official." If you're with a program like Samaritan's that means they will send it out to their members so the members can help you meet the need. If you're with someone like CHM it means your need has been approved and you'll be receiving your reimbursement check shortly.

      Delete
  11. How was your Maternity costs and well child check/vaccine costs?

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    Replies
    1. CHM covered all of our maternity costs and everything leading up to and including the birth of our son. They do not cover routine child wellness visits and vaccines. For those things you should look into seeing if your family is eligible for some kind of state assistance insurance program.

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  12. How does Liberty compare with the others you listed?

    ~~~Stacet

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  13. Beautiful explanation, Thumbs up!

    ReplyDelete