Health care sharing ministry offers alternative to traditional insurance
Arkansas Baptist News
TIRED OF THE skyrocketing increases in your health insurance premiums? Unable to have access to an employer-based health insurance plan? Reluctant to pay premiums to health insurance companies that perform procedures contrary to your Christian faith?
If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, then a Christian health care sharing ministry (HCSM) might be worth considering. A Christian HCSM is not health insurance, and it is not health care. Rather, it is a group of Christians coming together to cover one another’s medical expenses.
Although these plans are not health insurance, members of these plans are exempt from the federal requirement and penalty-tax (a mandate in effect until 2019).
These plans have been around for decades but seem to be growing in popularity in recent years due to the instability in today’s health insurance marketplace. One article, “Why Desperate Families Are Getting Religion on Health Coverage,” on politico.com reported that an estimated 1.1 million people are currently enrolled in a faith-based HCSM.
Membership in the three largest HCSMs — Samaritan Ministries, Medi-Share and Christian Healthcare Ministries, which together account for 85 percent of all people participating in health care sharing ministries — has more than doubled to 872,000 this year, up from 350,000 in 2014 and 175,000 in 2012, according to consumerreports.org.
Pros and cons
The plans offered by each company generally cost substantially less than traditional health insurance, sometimes as much as 50 percent less than health insurance available on the open market.
Beyond cost savings, another benefit attractive to Christians is the opportunity to pray with and for others in the HCSM. One woman reported receiving a call from her HCSM while her daughter was in the emergency room; the HCSM representative offered to pray with her, according to politico.com.
While each HCSM company varies in its approach, each has certain lifestyle expectations of its members, such as those related to smoking, drinking or using illegal drugs. Also the companies exclude any reimbursement for claims such as abortion, gender-reassignment surgery or a car accident if the HCSM member was driving while intoxicated.
Critics warn that HCSMs don’t come with the same protections or comprehensive coverage as traditional health insurance and most typically exclude a long list of medical services, including prescription drugs for chronic conditions and most dental and vision care, according to consumerreports.org.
GuideStone Financial Resources, which provides insurance to thousands of Southern Baptist ministers, urged caution in an online article when considering an HCSM, stating, “If you’re looking for a lower-cost health coverage option, you might be tempted to swap your GuideStone Personal
Plans coverage for a Christian medical sharing plan. While the monthly cost of a medical sharing ministry can be less, the trade-off is these plans can leave you exposed to significant financial and medical risks.”
The GuideStone article presents a chart comparing the out-of-pocket costs and benefits of the typical health sharing ministry with the benefits of GuideStone’s Value Health 5000 PPO plan.
Arkansas Baptist News cartoonist Gary Thomas and his family have been affiliated with an HCSM since the early 1990s. He described his savings from his former insurance premium to his current HCSM monthly commitment as a “blessing,” and he believes that the lifestyle standards required by the HCSMs “encourage people to live moral and upright lives.”
He cautions that HCSM members have to submit their own paperwork, rather than relying on insurance companies to submit claims, and that reimbursements may sometimes take a few months to receive. Still, he said if he alerts medical practices that he is a member of an HCSM, he is often able to make low monthly payments until the reimbursement arrives.
Reg Hamman, a member of Park Hill Baptist Church in North Little Rock, said he has had a “wonderful experience” with his HCSM. He and his family have been HCSM members for years.
Even with a few surgeries through the years, “All of my expenses have been taken care of. It’s been great for us,” he said.
Hamman, who has recommended HCSMs to many people, appreciates the fact that by being a HCSM member, he “doesn’t have bureaucrats determining my healthcare,” and he resonates with the philosophy of “partnering with Christians rather than with the world.”
Contact Margaret Colson at firstname.lastname@example.org.