Health sharing ministries growing in popularity as Obamacare implementation approaches

I’ve mentioned in the past that health sharing ministries can be attractive options for many uninsured self-pay patients looking for alternatives to standard health insurance plans. A recent article in the Christian Post suggests they may be growing in popularity, and Obamacare might be part of the reason why.

Christian Health Sharing Programs Exempt from ‘Obamacare’ Show Rapid Growth

Christian healthcare sharing programs, which are exempt from the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare,” have seen a spike in growth in the last few years as the new healthcare law is being implemented.

Medi-Share has grown by about 20 percent per year for the last several years, Andrea Miller, M.D., told The Christian Post in a Friday interview, and currently has over 62,000 members. Miller is medical director and vice president of sharing for Christian Care Ministry, which administers Medi-Share, one of the three largest healthcare sharing programs in the United States, along with Christian Healthcare Ministries and Samaritan Ministries

When the ACA was being written, Miller explained, the three groups asked members of Congress to place an exemption for them in the law so they would be able to continue to operate. Since healthcare sharing programs are not insurance, their members would have been required to buy health insurance if the exemption had not been place in the law.

The story explains the basics of how these ministries work:

Medi-Share is significantly cheaper than most health insurance programs. The average Medi-Share family contributes less than $300 per month.

Participants contribute to their Medi-Share account each month. When members have healthcare needs, money from that account can go to pay for those needs. The members must agree to a faith statement and agree to live according to certain lifestyle guidelines. They agree, for instance, to not have sex outside of marriage, not abuse alcohol or drugs, and not smoke.

The members decide which medical procedures will be eligible. Unlike insurance, there is no guarantee that healthcare needs will be paid for. Miller said, though, that in the 20 years the company has been around, there has been no eligible healthcare need that has not been paid for.

Medishare’s low costs compared to standard health insurance, which can often run upwards of $1,000 or more a month for a family policy, are pretty typical of the savings that are available to members of health sharing ministries.

Samaritan Ministries, for example, has a member monthly fee of $370 for a 2-parent family (with the rough equivalent of a $900 deductible), while Christian Healthcare Ministries offers different membership levels including one that would be $45 a month with a ‘personal responsibility’ amount (think deductible) of $5,000. In comparison, a standard insurance policy available on most Obamacare exchanges with a $5,000 deductible will cost at least $200 in most states for a 40-year old individual.

For some, the low costs aren’t the only advantage to health sharing ministries. Standard insurance policies sold under Obamacare will require coverage of some services that many Christians find morally objectionable, including abortion and contraception. For these people, joining a ministry can be a good way to provide financial security and funding for high-cost medical needs while remaining faithful to their values.

The Christian nature of the health sharing ministries also makes them unsuitable for many, of course – atheists  come immediately to mind, as well as those who are Christian but don’t adhere to the values the ministries require for membership. Alternate ministries or non-sectarian organizations could form with a similar model to serve these other communities, but they wouldn’t receive the same tax exemption.

As with every other option available to self-pay patients (and members of health sharing ministries are self-pay, even though they are able to rely on fellow members to help cover necessary medical expenses), health sharing ministries aren’t for everyone. But they are an option for many, and as the word spreads about them and what they can provide to members I expect them to flourish.

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