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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Life Without Obamacare Is Beautiful... But Complicated

Navigating the complex maze of healthcare sharing
I'm just going to come right out and warn you: if you're planning on hunting down your own health insurance you're going to have to learn to navigate some pretty complicated waters.

For the past few months Danielle and I have been investigating Christian healthcare sharing solutions, and it's proven to be a complex task trying to figure it all out. The whole learning curve has been... not fun. In fact, it's the very antithesis of fun. It's un-fun.

But here at Penny Pinching Prose we're all about enduring un-fun to serve you better *wink*

If you've read our blog for any amount of time you probably know just how much the wife and I dislike Obamacare. I don't know, maybe it has something to do with how much we like freedom, how much we value what our veterans fought and died for, and just how much we appreciate all the hell our forefathers went through to establish a country free from tyranny. What can I say—we're Americans.

So, anyway, we're going to spend some of this week blogging about what we've learned about Christian healthcare alternatives. What are they, exactly? Are they reliable? Is it a good idea to get involved in one?

The first thing you need to understand about share ministries is that they are NOT insurance. Though some of them function almost exactly like an insurance company, there is one major difference: insurance companies offer legally binding contracts in which they agree to pay your medical bills, whereas share ministries rely on members SHARING their income to meet the medical expenses of other members. There is no guarantee that your bills will be paid when you're with a share ministry. It requires an element of trust in God's provision.

A gamble? Perhaps. Except that God has an excellent track record of caring for His people THROUGH His people. On top of that the three major share ministries available in America today also have excellent track records of continuous coverage of their members' medical expenses.

How is it that these organizations can allow people to opt-out of some of Obamacare's unfavorable demands—like subsidizing abortions—yet still meet the requirements of the healthcare law? Well, basically it's because our First Amendment rights are still being upheld... albeit to a very small degree. It's the result of Congressmen Tom Perriello, a Virginia Democrat, and Senators Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Charles Grasslet, a Republican from Iowa. They fought to add the exemption to the law. It's the same principle that allowed for the Amish to be exempted from the individual mandate—with the crucial difference being that it's a lot more practical to join a share ministry than it is to become Amish. Although that would be cool.

The exemption requires qualifying health-sharing ministries to have been in operation before Dec. 31, 1999, which gives something of a monopoly to the three qualifying organizations—Medi-Share, Samaritan Ministries, and Christian Healthcare Ministries.

They all work pretty much the same way: to join you agree to pay a certain "share" every month, which  is similar to the premium you would pay with an insurance company, except your money goes into a giant fund from which other members receive money for their medical expenses. At Medi-Share, for example, the funds are distributed by the organization, but at Samaritan Ministries the individual members handle the money, so when you need a medical expense covered you'll get checks from several different people instead of the organization.

I know. It sounds weird.

So say you break your arm. You go to the doctor and tell them that you're a "self-pay" patient. You work out a billing schedule or pay up front. After receiving care, you notify the share ministry of your medical bill which is looked at to determine if it meets their guidelines for sharing and then they reimburse you directly. In some cases they'll pay up front.

Unfortunately, all three main share ministries treat regular doctor visits—like vaccinations, prescriptions for chronic illness, and check-ups—as something you need to budget for in addition to the share amount you pay every month. Their policies vary slightly, but they all seem to take the same position on this to one degree or another.

Still, even with the monthly share amount and budgeting for regular doctor visits, members pay significantly less than they would with Obamacare—i.e., through an insurance provider at work—especially if you're in the middle class tax bracket.

Well, it depends on who you talk to really. Some people say share ministries are great because of their biblical-based alternative to Obamacare. Others say they are unreliable, that payouts for your medical bills are dependent on other people, which means there is no guarantee that you'll get financial assistance in the event of a medical crisis.

If you're a normal human being with any level of financial responsibility that might make you say, "Umm, yikes!"

Historically I've never met an insurance company that was reliable either. Time and time again I've been screwed by insurance companies that are busting at the seams with dollar bills yet unwilling to let go of a single one of them. So, personally, I don't mind not wasting another second on insurance companies.

Ultimately, Danielle and I like the faith-aspect of share ministries and how it forces us to be more aware of how God should be at the center of our healthcare decisions. We like that we get to use our money to help other Christians, that we can pray for them and encourage them through their medical trials. We like not paying an arm and a leg for insurance that goes against our beliefs as Christians, our rights as Americans, and supports things that are clearly against God's Word.

Tomorrow we're going to talk in more detail about the pros and cons of the three major share ministries, so stay tuned!

And in the meantime...

Keep pinchin' :-)

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