Last week I wrote about the fine article in the Washington Post featuring people who had decided to opt-out of Obamacare, with a focus on those who had joined health sharing ministries. I also noted that many of the comments on the article revealed a great deal of confusion, ignorance, and even hostility to the whole idea of individuals choosing to voluntarily share medical bills amongst themselves.
Here’s one of the more lucid, less offensive (but still almost completely wrong) comments:
…if you actually go read [Christian Healthcare Ministries’] site, even the “Gold” level of protection is WORSE THAN the ACA-defined “Bronze” level, for anything excepting a person who has very little healthcare needs.
CHM has [lousy] catastrophic coverage (even with their Brothers’ Keeper’s add-on). Given the immense costs of any chronic disease or accident, you’ll burn through their coverage almost instantly. A single fairly-serious car accident will bankrupt you quickly even with CHM.
And, of course, ongoing drug costs (if you’re in “maintenance”, which most chronic conditions are) are going to NOT be covered.
Lastly, you pay all bills up front, then seek reimbursement from CHM, with a 2-3 month lag time AFTER you’ve submitted the paperwork.
Sounds like a real winner to me. The $150/unit cost isn’t a good deal either – with subsidies, most families of 4 will get better coverage under the ACA policies. I.e. family of 4, $60k income, you get a nice “enhanced Silver” package for $400/month, which is less than the CHM’s $450/month bill and provides FAR superior coverage.
To just run through the biggest mistakes here:
- Christian Health Ministries’ ‘Gold’ level plan has a ‘personal responsibility’ amount of $500, compared to most ‘bronze’ level insurance plans with a deductible in the $5,000 – $6,000 range.
- The catastrophic coverage with the Brother’s Keeper add-on is unlimited for members of the ‘Gold’ plan, and even for the other plans is pretty generous too, ranging between $125,000 and $1 million.
- Ongoing drug costs are in fact covered.
- You don’t have to pay the bills up front for major illnesses and injuries
- The subsidies on an ACA exchange are generous for some, less generous or nonexistent for others. A couple with no kids earning $65,000 gets no subsidy for example.
This particular commenter targeted Christian Healthcare Ministries so I focused on them in my response here, but a quick review of the other ministries will find pretty much the same thing. Samaritan Ministries, for example, has a program called Save to Share to pay medical bills beyond their $250,000 basic cap, and Christian Care Ministry (also known as Medishare) has no annual or lifetime limit at all. Both Liberty Healthshare and Altrua HealthShare also offer up to $1 million in benefits.
(One quick note – the average medical expense for someone in the top 1% of all healthcare consumers was about $87,000 in 2010. You have to have an epically bad year or decade to even come close to the limits set by some of the ministries.)
But rather than go through each comment or complaint about health sharing ministries offered on the Washington Post article, I thought it might be more helpful just to provide some of the real stories of individuals who are members of the ministries and have had their medical bills paid by fellow members. I've picked one from each of the five.
Samaritan members have come through for us each time we had medical needs in our family. One medical need of my wife’s required an MRI and lumbar puncture procedure, as well as follow-up doctor visits. The bills totaled $9,566.00, but the medical providers gladly offered us discounts, simply because we asked kindly, eliminating $5,464.16 off our balance due. That left us a balance of only $4,101.84, which we were shared in full via personal checks from other members through the Samaritan Ministries International’s very organized system for assigning every medical… Additionally, our personal responsibility was $0 for this medical need, because of discount we negotiated. Our monthly share never exceeded our set amount, and our share hasn’t increased due to having a medical need.
The second medical need my wife had was for ingrown toe nail surgery in two toes. This surgery would have cost us $675 without help, but the final amount we’re out of pocket is $121, because like the previous medical need we asked for discounts from the doctor’s office and received shares from members.
Dustin & Melisa Cheatham
Our family joined Christian Healthcare Ministries in 1993... Since then we’ve experienced various medical incidents, including hemorrhoids; appendicitis; broken bones; accidents; gallbladder issues; Angelman syndrome; kidney stones; and my pregnancies with our five daughters—Olivia, Julia, Arianna, Victoria and Sophia.. We’re grateful to CHM members for sharing nearly $90,000 to help us with these many expenses.
Two of our daughters—Arianna and Victoria—at age six were each diagnosed with scoliosis… We knew that our daughters would need surgery in order to live longer. (Severe scoliosis can shorten lifespan by up to 20 percent because it affects internal organs and rib cage rotation.)
We found a remarkable surgeon who practices medicine about two hours away from where we live. Arianna underwent spinal fusion surgery in June 2012 and spent three weeks in the hospital…
Arianna’s medical bills totaled $345,504; the hospital bill alone was more than $300,000. Thankfully, with a lot of help from CHM, the hospital bill was reduced by 77 percent. Overall we received $251,948 in discounts and the remaining balance ($93,556) was shared by CHM members!
Kenneth & Debbie Seigal
While ice-skating at her granddaughter’s 7th birthday party, [Peggy] Sofran took a tumble face first onto the ice. The fall caused her arm from her shoulder to her elbow to turn black and blue..
After a visit to her doctor, he confirmed that she had fractured her shoulder. After years of using traditional insurance, she was nervous the first time she handed her Liberty HealthShare card to her doctor’s receptionist.
“I was wondering what would happen once I used the card. I had explained to the nurse how it worked and then she took down the information on the card", said Sofran.
Although the function of a health share plan was new to the nurse, she sent it to the billing department for processing without any hesitation.
“They didn’t have a problem taking it at all; I thought ‘Oh wow, this is nice’!”, she said. After Sofran's second visit, her experience was even better. She went in for another x-ray, handed the card to the nurse who took it and gave her everything she needed for her procedure, without any questions.
Sofran exclaimed, “It was so easy, and the perfect experience. I couldn’t have asked for things to have gone smoother! My bills have been shared by the members and the doctors are paid...
I have been a member of Altrua HealthShare since early 2002. I can say Altrua HealthShare has truly blessed my family over the years of being there in times of medical needs. In late 2004 my wife had a second round of cancer that created over 160k of medical bills after being clean of cancer for 12 years. In mid-2010 I had major neck surgery which created 80k of medical bills and Altrua HealthShare was there to provide for my family’s financial needs… I also would have been financially crippled without Altrua HealthShares assistance. A very special connection to Altrua HealthShare is Altrua Ministries… [which] assists the members of Altrua HealthShare in dealing with financial hardship and works with medical providers in lowering and finding discounts plans to lower the out of pocket expense…
Last but by no means least, here is an amazing video detailing the experience of Bobby and Sandra, Christian Care Ministry/Medishare members who faced over $1 million in medical bills following what was indeed an epically bad year medically speaking – 43 days in intensive care, pancreatitis, stroke, coma, and pulmonary failure, and those are just the highlights. Their ministry paid the entire bill.
As I’ve often said, health sharing ministries are not the right solution for everyone looking for alternatives to conventional health insurance or just for a way to save money on health care. But for those who do their homework and look at what each ministry really offers, as opposed to how they’re described by uninformed and hostile people, there’s a good chance they’ll find something that’s a match.