Make that FIVE sharing ministries…

I’ve mentioned and explained health care sharing ministries several times in the past, and when I discuss alternatives to conventional health insurance they are usually the first thing I mention. To summarize the key benefits of these voluntary organizations of like-minded individuals that agree to share medical bills between members:

  • They offer protection from large medical expenses that are generally comparable to conventional health insurance
  • The cost of membership is typically much less than conventional health insurance
  • Members know that they aren’t supporting what they might consider immoral or reckless lifestyles or paying for objectionable services like abortion
  • Members of health care sharing ministries are exempt from having to pay Obamacare’s tax on being uninsured, even though ministries are not insurance

When I first learned about health care sharing ministries, not quite a decade ago, I only knew of three of them: Samaritan Ministries, Christian Healthcare Ministries, and Christian Care Ministry (which more people probably know as Medishare), and that’s the number I used when I first wrote about them on The Self-Pay Patient blog.

In late October, I learned of a fourth ministry, Liberty HealthShare. Unlike the three ministries I previously knew about, LibertyHealthshare does not require members to be practicing Christians. In fact, they don’t even require that members have any religious affiliation or faith at all, only that that subscribe to an ethical commitment to religious liberty. Needless to say this opened up the doors to a much larger number of people who might be looking for an alternative to conventional health insurance under Obamacare.

So this morning I was thrilled to find an e-mail in my inbox from a reader letting me know that there is in fact a fifth sharing ministry out there, Altrua HealthShare. It operates along the same general lines as the other four (all of them have their unique aspects, of course), with members able to have eligible medical bills paid from an escrow account that al members contribute to. 

Like the other ministries, the costs are very affordable for most, less than conventional health insurance. The Gold membership has a $500 ‘member responsibility amount’ (MRA), similar to a deductible, and members are also responsible for 25% of the next $10,000 in medical bills, similar to co-insurance. For a single person under age 40, this membership would cost $145 a month, while someone in their fifties would pay $222. Family memberships at the Gold level range from $320 to $590.

Less expensive options are available as well. The Bronze membership has an MRA of $1,500 plus 25% of the next $10,000 in medical expenses, and would cost $75 a month for someone under age 40, and only $215 for someone ages 60-64. Family memberships at the Bronze level range from $240 to $485 a month.

Altrua HealthShare does have a network of medical providers, similar to just about every insurer. This can help to avoid the situation self-pay patients can find themselves in where they get charged a ‘list’ price for treatment that is higher than what someone with conventional health insurance might be charged. It also means fewer choices of providers, of course, so people will have to judge for themselves which tradeoff they are willing to make.

The membership eligibility guidelines specify that “The person must have a religious conviction of the importance of helping others and/or maintaining a healthy lifestyle as outlined in the Statement of Standards contained in the membership application.” Which would seem to open the door to people of just about every major faith in the world, but looking at the Statement of Standards it refers to ‘biblical convictions,’ so maybe not. I’ll check this out and update with what I find.

Now for the potential bad news: it’s not clear that members are eligible for the same exemption from the Obamacare tax that members of the other four ministries are. Their site has no mention of members being exempt (which the other four include on their sites), and the site includes a reference to a separate Altrua Ministries, saying “Altrua Ministries has been in existence since June 1, 2001. This ministry was formed by the members of Altrua HealthShare…” This is important because Obamacare only exempts members if ministry has been operating since at least 1999. It’s possible Altrua Healthshare was operating then and formed Altrua Ministries later, but there’s no information on that I could find. Another thing to check out.

Either way, Altrua should still be an excellent option for many people, either because they are exempt from the Obamacare tax for another reason (if the lowest available premium on an exchange would exceed 8% of income, for example) or because even after paying the tax on being uninsured it’s still cheaper to join a ministry.

I’m thrilled to find one more option for self-pay patients, and hope readers will continue to feed me information I can share with everyone else – I know I’ve just scratched the surface of everything that’s out there, and look forward to writing about more!

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38 Responses to Make that FIVE sharing ministries…

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  5. JustMe says:

    Trinity Health Share is another health share ministry that I believe is an ACA recognized health care sharing ministry. The apparent history is as follows: Bruce Hawthorn, the founder of Ohio’s Barberton Rescue Mission, was involved in a tragic auto accident in 1982 that killed his wife and daughter and left him with $54,000 in unpaid medical bills. Out of that experience he founded Christian Brotherhood Letter to help Christians share medical expenses. CBL prospered for a while, then apparently fell into insider financial mismanagement. A lawsuit by the Ohio Attorney General ensued in 2000.

    I am unclear what happened in the aftermath of lawsuits, but the ministry, or its mission, appeared to have been taken over (??) by a Howard Russell (who was in some was formerly associated with Hawthorn and the CBL or the Barberton Rescue Mission – BRM). Apparently, it was renamed as the Christian Care Ministry, now commonly known as Medi-Share. Apparently (not sure) Hawthorn must have retained control of the original 501-c charter of the CBL or BRM. Somehow one of these 501-c ministries was reorganized and eventually reincarnated as an ACA-recognized health-care sharing ministry.

    The order of this transformation may have been: from CBL (or BRM), into Christian Care Ministry, into Christian Financial Debt Assistance, into The last name change was finalized about a year and a half ago (dated from today May 19, 2014). I phoned Liberty Health Share’s Ohio office. “They” told me they have about 7000 members and their most expensive individual plan is $199/month. The religious requirement is not as rigid as the three main Christian health sharing ministries, though a moderate, healthy lifestyle is required.

    • says:

      I believe it’s actually Liberty HealthShare that you’re referring to, and yes, they do appear to have some connection to the old Christian Brotherhood Letter. People can google that and “Howard Russell” as well as “Bruce Hawthorn” for the details on the controversy, I’ve heard different tales about what happened but suffice it to say a lot of people were unhappy with how everything went down. I think it’s more accurate to say that some of the people connected to the former CBL are now involved with Liberty, which is an outgrowth of CFDA, rather than to say that Liberty is the current evolution of CBL.

    • Joel says:

      JustMe, do you happen to have any more info on Trinity Health Share? A contact or website? Do you know if they merged with Liberty so Liberty could be certified under the ACA?

      Also, I wanted to add some clarity to the other ministry info you posted. CBL did not become Christian Care Ministry, now commonly known as Medi-Share, but rather Christian Health Care Ministries (CHM), and Howard Russell is the President.

      Christian Care Ministry (CCM), commonly known as Medi-Share is a completely different ministry, began in 1993 with no connection to CBL or CHM.

      – Joel Noble, Vice President, Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries.

  6. You have some great information here… Thank You. I do believe that you have missed our organization though. We are Medical Cost Sharing Inc. and we are a 501C3 non profit organization. We also are an alternative to obamacare. We have some great plans available to individuals, families and groups. I would appreciate it if you would check out the unique advantages that our plans offer over the other health sharing companies, like our Return Of Contribution, our Contribution Cap and out Vanishing Personal Responsibility and share with your readers.

    Thank You.


    Craig Reynolds
    CEO and Founder of Medical Cost Sharing Inc

    • says:

      Thanks, I will check this out. Please e-mail me at selfpaypatient [a] with additional information, I’m especially interested in the offer to pay any ACA penalty.

      • Linds says:

        Sean I’m curious whether you researched Medical Cost Sharing Inc. as reference by Mr. Reynolds in the above post. I’m just in the beginning stages of comparing the different ministries and I’m very impressed by the advantages in the one Mr Reynolds refers to. I can’t find any reviews on it and want to make sure it’s well established and can meet the tax exemption guidelines.

        • Sean Parnell says:

          Sorry for the delay, am looking into it soon.

        • Yvonne says:

          Have you researched MCS yet? Curious what you find.

          • Yvonne,
            While you’re waiting for Sean’s review I would suggest contacting medical cost sharing inc and asking for a copy of their annual audit and also a copy of their 990 form. The ACA requires qualified health care sharing ministries conduct an annual audit which is performed by an independent certified public accounting firm in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and which is made available to the public upon request. Even though they are not certified because of the December 31, 1999 timestamp, they should still be willing to provide you a copy of their audit and the 990, which is the form all nonprofits file.

  7. Tosha Tanquary says:

    We looked into these options for our family but found we wouldn’t be allowed to enroll because our very healthy almost 4 year old has Down syndrome.
    That’s right… They wouldn’t let us enroll because she has Down syndrome…. Very confusing, and quite sad.

    • John with Samaritan Ministries says:

      Just to offer some clarity to the question of pre-existing issues, no health condition makes one ineligible for membership with Samaritan Ministries. At this time, though, expenses which pertain to a pre-existing condition would not be included in the regular sharing process. If you decide to become a member, you could submit those pre-existing condition related expenses to us as a Special Prayer Need, where members would be given the opportunity to send to your need on a “free will offering” basis.

      If you would like further clarity on this matter, or would like to discuss how a particular issue would be handled under the terms of our guidelines, feel free to call us at 877-764-2426, 8-5 central, Monday through Friday.

      • says:

        Thanks for the clarification, John. Am I correct in believing that after a certain number of years pre-existing conditions do become covered? I seem to recall that at least one ministry has such a policy.

        • John with Samaritan Ministries says:

          Great question, Sean. An ongoing pre-existing issue would remain pre-existing under our current guidelines. With most conditions, if the member is able to go at least 12 months symptom-, treatment- and medication- free before a condition recurs, then we could look at sharing that recurrence as a new need. (For cancer and heart disease, a 5 year symptom/treatment/medication-free term would apply).

  8. cherylee says:

    Here is one that includes alternative treatments:

    • says:

      I’m approving this comment, but please don’t consider this an endorsement as I’m not familiar with this entity and suggest anyone interested in a health plan along these lines carefully check out this operation (that goes for any new startup in the health care field, btw). Would be happy to hear about any member experiences, it looks like it’s a co-op modeled after the sharing ministries.

  9. Lisa says:

    I’ve been comparing CHM and Altrua. I’m concerned about the annual limit of $125,000 with CHM. Seems like a lot of risk and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. However, after reading the coverage exclusions for Altrua, I was really disappointed. Basically injuries resulting from participation in any sport or recreational hobby such as hiking or golf, even trampoline will not be covered unless you pay an additional $300/yr per person. And even then, injuries are only covered up to $25,000. Am I reading that correctly?

    • says:

      Probably best to contact Altrua directly with questions about what needs are shared. Many of the ministries do have options for sharing that go beyond their limits, and they typically aren’t all that much more in terms of cost.

    • Neil says:

      The $125,000 limit for Christian Healthcare Ministries is with the base program only. You can sign up for the Brother’s Keeper add-on for only a $40 annual fee plus $100 annually per person. This raises the annual limit $100,000 per membership year up to a maximum $1 million after 8 years for the Bronze and Silver programs, and is immediately unlimited for the Gold program.

      One approach would be to sign up as Gold for a few years, and then downgrade to Bronze or Silver after several years when the limit has reached a level with which you feel comfortable.

  10. Todd Young says:

    Since these companies are not “insurance companies” can you open an HSA account too? I have enrolled my family with Liberty HealthShare and opened an HSA account to put the max of $6,750 into pre tax. I don’t want to incur any penalties for not being compliant. Thanks.

  11. Ted Sherwood says:

    Anybody know whether there is anything similar in Australia?

  12. Marsha Price says:

    It is my understanding that the amounts paid each month for these plans are not deductible on Schedule A or Schedule C (employee spouse), nor can they be paid by an employer as tax free fringe or reimbursed under a 105 plan. Would the receipt of member moneys to pay medical claims be taxable to the recipient as income?

  13. Matt Flattery says:

    Im looking for a christian healthcare coverage with a group plan. I have seen it in the past but cant seem to locate it now.

    Any thoughts?

  14. Mahendra Ahuja says:

    Do I need to be a christian to enroll into ministry program ?

  15. Tracie says:

    Is Liberty the only one that covers wellness exams?

  16. R. E. Halstead says:

    what information have you discovered about MCS Medical Cost Sharing out of St Joseph, Mo. ?

    I’d like to know how long they have been in business, and if they are
    a reputable company and not an internet scam.

    thank you

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