I’ve discussed healthcare sharing ministries several times since launching The Self-Pay Patient blog. Their benefits of joining are pretty simple to understand – they generally cost far less than conventional health insurance, they provide coverage for medical expenses that is fairly comprehensive (with some exceptions), they avoid having to pay for some items that are deeply objectionable to many Americans (like abortion), and members are exempt from having to pay the tax for being uninsured.
One of the biggest drawbacks to sharing ministries, from the perspective of someone like myself who want to see as many options as possible for people in getting affordable healthcare, is that membership in the ministries is limited to Christians. Or so I thought!
The other day someone posted on the Facebook page of a friend a reference to something called ‘Liberty HealthShare,’ which he described as a new healthcare sharing ministry. I was curious so I went to check it out, and discovered that unlike the three existing ministries, you don’t have to be a Christian to join.
According to the Liberty HealthShare membership qualifications, you are eligible to join if you meet the following criteria:
Don’t use tobacco in any form,
Don’t abuse alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs,
Are healthy and lead a healthy lifestyle,
And agree with our shared beliefs!
Our shared beliefs are values that express our rights and purpose. As a Sharing Member, we ask you to agree with the following beliefs we hold in common:
Belief in the right of every individual to worship God in their own way.
Belief in the right to assist your fellow man when they’re in need.
Belief in the right to direct your own healthcare free from government dictates, restraints and oversight.
Belief in the right to live a healthy lifestyle, and avoid foods, habits or behaviors that produce sickness or disease.
I called and spoke with someone at Liberty HealthShare and he confirmed that belief in God is not necessary for membership, just a willingness to let others worship whatever deity they prefer, or none at all, in whatever way they decide.
I also asked about the statement on their web site that members of Liberty Healthshare were exempt from Obamacare’s tax for being uninsured. My understanding was that the law required that members belong to sharing ministries that had been in operation since 1999, and to my knowledge there were only three that had been around that long: Samaritan Ministries, Christian Care Ministry, and Christian Healthcare Ministries.
It turns out that there’s at least one more that has been around since 1999, a very small one called CSDA that looks to have primarily operated out of Ohio (although members can join from any of the 50 states). The Liberty HealthShare spokesman said they are an outgrowth of that CSDA, and that they now have about 3,000 members (not sure if that’s total people or families) and have been around since 1994.
One of the interesting things about Liberty HealthShare is that they are organized around ethical beliefs and not religious beliefs. Most people don’t know that the Obamacare exemption for sharing organizations must be composed of members who “share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs…”
By establishing a set of ethical criteria that members must subscribe to, Liberty HealthShare has found a way to expand the number of Americans who can opt for this low-cost alternative to conventional health insurance.
Liberty HealthShare isn’t just unique in its expanded membership eligibility. Unlike the other three ministries, they handle payment of medical bills directly. The other three ministries distribute the shared funds directly to the patient (or their family), who then pay medical bills directly.
Their membership pricing and benefits are also structured a little differently than the other three ministries as well. The have a very low ‘Initial Unshared Amount’ (comparable to a deductible) of $500, and their least expensive membership covers 70 percent of the first $125,000 in medical expenses per incident, with no benefits after that. More generous memberships cover 100 percent of medical expenses up to a maximum of $125,000 or $1 million per incident.
Like the three Christian ministries, Liberty HealthShare’s costs for joining are very affordable compared to conventional health insurance. The lowest-cost program, called Liberty Share, offers individual memberships for $157 a month for those 30 and older, and $107 a month for younger people. Family memberships cost $395 (30 and over) and $345 (under 30).
The more generous program that pays 100 percent of medical bills up to $1 million, Liberty Complete, offers individual memberships for $199 (30 and over) and $149 (under 30), and family memberships for $449 (30 and over) and $399 (under 30). There’s a membership level between these two as well.
One additional difference between Liberty HealthShare and the other sharing organizations is that they do work with networks to pay pre-negotiated or Medicare rates for their members’ medical bills for the two more generous membership plans (other ministries do have bill-reduction assistance).
In order to receive the benefits of the negotiated rates, there is a separate enrollment required with the company that manages this benefit and an additional fee of $24 (single) or $29 (couple/family) per month.
The arrival of a new sharing organization (at least, the Liberty HealthShare program is new) is an exciting development that gives another choice for self-pay patients. Best of all, by opening their membership beyond only Christians, they provide an option to people who like many of the features of the three major healthcare sharing ministries, but simply don’t meet the religious qualifications. A welcome development to everybody who favors expanded access to healthcare coverage!