One family’s experience with a health sharing ministry

I’ve written several times about health sharing ministries, which are voluntary associations of Christians that agree to share each other’s medical bills. Ministries function similar to insurance, but they aren’t regulated the way insurance companies are and they don’t have to cover all the same benefits and services that insurers do. For some this is a plus, for others it isn’t.

Members of ministries are considered to be self-pay, and two of the three currently operating offer ‘member responsibilities’ (similar to a deductible) that are in the $5,000 – $10,000 range. And they can be good options for self-pay patients who want to have some form of coverage in the event of a major medical expense but either can’t afford or simply don’t want to be part of the traditional insurance system.

I thought it might be interesting to share one person’s experience as a member of Samaritan Ministries that I found online. Joy Miller runs a book, graphic, and web design firm in Texas with her husband and also blogs about homeschooling. Here are some excerpts from here post at the web site MoneySavingMom.

How We Save Money on Health Care Costs

Six years ago my husband and I had health insurance coverage through his work. But when the premiums started to rise, we realized we had to do something to save money because we were already struggling to stretch our dollars from week to week.

It was about this time I happened upon this post by Shaun Groves. Shaun’s son came down with a sudden illness that resulted in an enormous medical bill, and even though their family didn’t have insurance, their out-of-pocket costs for the entire bill was just $12! Needless to say, I was intrigued. 

Shaun explained that they were members of a Christian health care sharing ministry called Samaritan. Samaritan isn’t insurance; instead a group of Christians share medical needs they have that exceed $300, and the members pay each others’ bills.

…in 2007 we cancelled our $500+/month insurance policy with a $3000 deductible and became members of Samaritan.

Each month Samaritan sends us the name and address of another Samaritan member and a summary of their medical need. We then write a check for our monthly share of $370, include a personal note, and send the money directly to the other member. This $370 ‘share’ is basically our monthly premium.

… several times our medical bills for an illness or injury have exceeded the $300 threshold…

One of these needs was an $80,000 hospital bill from when my daughter shattered her femur… Samaritan negotiated discounts from several of the providers, saving thousands of dollars, and once we received all the checks from the Samaritan members, our out-of-pocket cost was less than $200.

Being a member of Samaritan and going without typical health insurance coverage is definitely not for everyone… So if you’re looking for ways to save money on your health care costs, you might want to investigate health care sharing ministries like Samaritan… to see if they are a good fit for your own situation.

Joy also mentions that her family uses to get affordable prescription drugs, which is one of the many options that self-pay patients have for saving on drug costs that I’ve written about in the past.

I’ve read many similar accounts before, but what makes this one stand out is the large number of comments that people offered in response to the article, many of them by members of Samaritan Ministries, Christian Care Ministry, or Christian Healthcare Ministries. The numerous comments provide additional information that can help to explain the pros and cons of health sharing ministries. I’ve excerpted some of them below as well.

Heather: We joined Samaritan Ministries in February. It has been so wonderful blessing others every month rather than a company that supports things I feel are morally wrong. It was also frustrating when you pay so much a month for insurance yet every time you end up in the clinic your insurance doesn’t cover. What’s the point then? We save at least $1,000 a year, probably more now that premiums went up again…

Melissa JonesI love the idea behind these cost-sharing organizations (absolutely Biblical), but it’s a no-go for our family because they don’t cover our very necessary (and expensive) ADD meds.

This is an excellent option for a single, couple, or family who are generally healthy and have no chronic conditions, but the out-of-pocket expenses climb if you join while having a chronic condition (e.g., diabetes, mental health issues, cholesterol or blood pressure issues). Absolutely read the fine print before dumping your current coverage.

It’s an awesome idea – it really and truly is – but it’s not for everyone.

Julie: We are in a similar program called Medi-Share. It works a bit differently though. Instead of paying our monthly share (like an insurance premium) directly to the recipient, we pay it to Medi-Share and they disperse our money to other members according to their needs. We have an annual household portion (like a deductible) of $2500. Once we meet that, our expenses are shared among the members. Until then we pay out-of-pocket. However, we are a part of PHCS (private health care system) so we have a card to present to the providers and we receive a discount, anywhere from 30%-70%! Our monthly share is $330. We don’t go to the doctor a lot for regular check-ups and such so this plan works perfectly for our family.

Medi-Share also gives a health incentive if you meet certain health criteria. This has saved us $75 each month!

Karen: I was so excited to see this post. We used to have “great” health insurance, you know the kind where you pay pretty much nothing out of pocket and our employers paid most if not all of the monthly costs. We were very blessed.

Then my husband became a pastor and we were terrified at the prices we were being quoted for health insurance and none of those covered maternity.

We joined Samaritan and have seen that it is wonderful. This is not a gimmic. But you do have to look at healthcare differently if you choose this route. We had one baby on regular health insurance and now we had our second while on Samaritan. The actual cost would have been around $12000 this time (trust me I know, I have spreadsheets where I kept meticulous records) but through Samaritan we only paid the initial $300 (actually it was less than that because we negotiated so many of our own discounts but I can’t remember the exact number). The wonderful part was all the cards from people who were praying for us.

As the author of the article notes (and several of the commenters state as well), sharing ministries aren’t for everyone. But for a great many people, including those currently uninsured or with insurance but looking for alternatives, sharing ministries are an option that should be considered.

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6 Responses to One family’s experience with a health sharing ministry

  1. Dave says:

    And best of all, members who participate are exempt from the Obamacare penalty (in almost every state) under the religious organization clause.

  2. Donna says:

    We have been members of Samaritan Ministries for 17 years, and love it. People care about your needs, the office staff are accurate in their work, we have learned to care for our selves better, our health care cost is far less than most people with “great” insurance, and we have learned to be careful in shopping for health care. It is a joy to know that people willingly pay their share and send us encouraging notes, instead of the insurance company that never got the benefits right and we fought to recieve the coverage promised. I highly recommend Samaritan Ministries!

  3. Jamie Pyles says:

    Let me tell you my story.
    Before we found Samaritan Ministries, being self employed, I was compelled to become a professional gambler. Once a year, I would call some company like Blue Cross, and I would say: “we need to make a bet. I will bet you that sometime in the next 12 months, I will get deathly sick and need someone like you to keep me from losing my house.” And they, while being tickled that I was motivated by this kind of paranoia, would say, “ok, we will take that bet, as we think you will stay healthy.” So then I would have to ask how much we were betting this year, and they would say something like: $5,000.
    So once a month I would write a check for $415 to them for a paranoia based gambling agreement with a high deductible, and I would also pay all of my doctor bills. And every year I would lose the bet. I was never fortunate enough to get deathly sick and win the bet. I would imagine that at the end of the year, a group of executives at Blue Cross would gather around my file, have a good laugh, high five each other, throw my $5k onto their pile of cash, and wait for my next call offering to bet again. Consequently, I deeply resented writing that check to them.
    Now, through the health care sharing system with Samaritan Ministries, once a month my wife and I sit down with our checkbook and fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2) I cannot explain well enough to those who have not experienced it, what it is like to send a check to another Christian family who has a real burden. It is a privilege and a pleasure to participate in bearing that part of the burden that family is going through.
    Last month, we sent in one of our own medical burdens, and last night my wife and I sat around our table and read 5 real cards of encouragement and notice that there are 5 households from all over America praying to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for our welfare and healing.
    All of the experts with their actuarial tables, their underwriting, and their algorithms , have no idea how to quantify the value of those prayers, but we know it is one of the key components to the question: “how can Samaritan’s share amounts be so low?”
    Our experience with Samaritan for the last 16 years has lead us to the point that if I had an employer paid for Cadillac insurance approach to health care, I would do everything I could to switch it to SMI.

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  6. I had no idea that medical health cost sharing ministries even existed. That is so cool to me because it shows me that people really care about how expensive healthcare is and how lots of people can’t afford it. Insurance is great, but sometimes there are a lot of rules and regulations attached to them.

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