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!