I recently played the oh-so-fun game of “how much more money am I going to spend on health insurance this year” and came out thinking that there has got to be another way. I’m tired of throwing so much money at premiums and still have to pay insane deductibles and out of pocket maximums.
Lo and behold, there are other options!
These health care sharing ministries operate under an exemption in Obamacare (i.e. U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). This means that members of these ministries are exempt from the individual mandate in Obamacare. You can read more about health care sharing ministries on Wikipedia.
I first heard about Medi-Share on the radio, and a friend mentioned Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM). Hearing how these ministries work piqued my interest, so I began to investigate. I found a couple more through my research, namely Liberty HealthShare and Samaritan Ministries.
They all work basically the same way: Christians join together to pay for each other’s eligible medical bills. Each program is slightly different with the same underlying principle.
I began by taking a typical year of medical provider visits and seeing how much that same care would cost under each program, including on an Obamacare plan, so I knew how much different the costs would be.
For instance, I might visit the doctor twice in a year, a specialist twice a year, buy a prescription monthly, and have a test or two done. The wife and kids might have a couple visits among them.
Routine doctor visits would cost us a $10 copay per visit, while specialist visits cost a $75 copay. Prescriptions are through Express Scripts and include a discount. Tests are typically discounted but then applied to our deductible. In a typical year, annual premiums on Obamacare would cost us around $7,632, and the other costs (copays, prescriptions, and tests) would be around $1,300, for a total of $8,932.
This program has different plan types you can choose from. Each has a different monthly cost and a correspondingly different out of pocket (OOP) maximum amount you pay before they cover your expenses. For instance, one plan would cost us $469 per month, and the amount we would pay before benefits kick in was $2,500. In a typical year, this plan would cost us $5,628 annually, and the other costs (copays, prescriptions, and tests) would only be around $2,000. In other words, benefits likely would not kick in, since we wouldn’t pay over $2,500. The annual total costs would be $7,628.
Christian Health Care Ministries (CHM)
CHM had a flat rate monthly cost of $450. There is a $500 OOP max per person, per year before they cover any expenses. Also, total bills for an incident must be greater than $500. Most of our bills would not be above this amount, so they wouldn’t cover much for our needs. In a typical year, this plan would cost us $5,400 annually, and the other costs (copays, prescriptions, and tests) would be around $2,000, for a total of $7,400.
The Complete plan has the best coverage and benefits, and the monthly cost is around $399 per month for our family. There is a total OOP max for the entire family of $1,500 before benefits kick in. In a typical year, this plan would cost us $4,788 annually, and the other costs (copays, prescriptions, and tests) would be around $2,000. Because this plan covers 100% of eligible expenses beyond $1,500, we would only have to pay $1,500, instead of $2,000. The annual total costs would be $6,788.
As you can see, the ministries all were cheaper for us than an Obamacare plan, even with the Obamacare plan providing us a subsidy.
Note that it can be difficult to compare all these programs, as they each have unique qualifications, requirements, or coverages. It may feel like comparing apples to oranges at times because they handle coverage or benefits differently. You must read the terms and conditions of each program carefully, so you know what you are getting into.
For instance, most programs do not cover pregnancies where an unmarried woman becomes pregnant (most provide an exception for rape) or any costs associated to abortion, suicide, or substance abuse. Some may not fully cover medical transport or birth defects or congenital conditions. Most have significantly reduced coverage of pre-existing conditions.
Again – and I cannot stress this enough:
You must read every term in each program’s guidelines.
The worst thing that could happen is you cancel your traditional health insurance plan and end up with one of these programs that won’t cover a significant medical incident or diagnoses you thought it would. Don’t let that happen. Read the guidelines and ask every question you can think of until you are 100% comfortable the program will fit your family.
Each program handles pre-existing conditions differently. If you have significant or numerous pre-existing conditions, the terms of certain programs could be too restrictive for your family, so read their guidelines carefully.
For instance, Liberty has fairly strict pre-existing conditions coverage (see Liberty’s Sharing Guidelines, page 14). They do not cover any expenses for pre-existing conditions during the first year of membership and slowly increase their coverage each year. After you have been a member for three full years, they cover pre-existing conditions at 100%.
Medi-Share’s coverage of pre-existing conditions can be found in their guidelines under title “VI. Details of sharing”, subtitle F.
CHM’s coverage of pre-existing conditions can be found in their guidelines, starting on page 38 (or page 20 of the PDF).
Read very carefully about each program’s maximum coverage of your bills. Each is different and could cause a lot of headaches if you aren’t aware beforehand.
For instance, CHM has a standard max coverage amount of $125,000 per illness. They also provide an additional program called Brother’s Keeper that unlocks unlimited assistance (i.e. no max limit). This is excellent for those wanting to eliminate all risk or who expect to experience expensive or long-term health costs.
Medi-Share has no max coverage amount, so less risk.
Liberty has probably the lowest max coverage amounts, although not terribly low. The Complete plan covers up to $1,000,000 per incident. Liberty defines an incident as, “Any medically diagnosed condition receiving medical treatment and incurring medical expenses of the same diagnosis. All related medical bills of the same diagnosis comprise the same incident.” This obviously introduces a slight risk, in that one could experience a traumatic brain injury or other significant medical condition and begin burning through tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars very quickly. For us, we decided this was a risk worth taking. We have almost no family history of significant diseases, and we all eat well, exercise, and take good care of our bodies, so this greatly decreases the chances of ever having to worry about the million dollar limit. I’m sure this max coverage is part of what helps Liberty have the lowest costs.
I will also note here something I read elsewhere: even if you did hit one of these maximum limits, since Obamacare states you cannot be denied health insurance due to pre-existing conditions, you would simply need to wait until the next enrollment period, and enroll in a traditional health insurance plan to begin covering your significant medical event.
Submitting Bills and Receiving Payment
One of the deal breakers for us was the amount of paperwork we would have to shuffle with each program. During my research last year, I found that Liberty HealthShare was the only program that allows you to submit your paperwork online. They also appeared to be one of the few programs who disbursed payments directly to you or a participating provider, instead of you having to receive multiple checks from other program members and have to deposit them yourself. That sounded like a total hassle. If I can do anything online and automatic, I choose that!
I read that CHM now allows you to submit paperwork online and may even disburse payments directly to you.
I raise this point, so you know to be aware of how each program handles submission of paperwork and how each program arranges to repay you for eligible medical bills.
Why We Chose Liberty HealthShare
First off, as you can see above, for our family, Liberty is cheapest. We personally think that Liberty’s guidelines are very fair and cover everything we need (and doesn’t cover anything we believe is wrong). We are all very healthy and (praise the Lord) rarely have to go to any medical provider, so for us, some of the ineligible expenses didn’t concern us. We took the calculated risk of Liberty only sharing up to $1,000,000 per incident because we have not needed much, if any, medical care. Liberty was also one of the few with an online portal that allows you to submit paperwork online, see your unshared amount, and view medical expenses with sharing status. Liberty handles reimbursements or payments online, so you don’t have to mess with sending physical checks or opening additional checking accounts.
Here is a screenshot of our online ShareBox:
Our Experience So Far
We signed up in November 2016, so granted, we have not had much experience with them so far. I have had to call their customer service 3-4 times, and have always gotten someone very quickly who answered all our questions. We’ve only submitted a couple of bills so far, but we won’t be reimbursed for them, as we have not yet met our $1,500 unshared amount. You can view your bills, how much unshared amount you have paid, and more from your online account, which is very handy.
I will write more blog posts as we continue with Liberty and keep you all informed how it’s going.
My Experience with Liberty HealthShare
I’ve been blogging about my experience with Liberty HealthShare, so feel free to read all my posts!
- 2017 Liberty HealthShare Review, Part 1
- Is the Liberty HealthShare Referral Program Legit?
- 2017 Liberty HealthShare Review, Part 2
How About You?
Do you have experience with Liberty HealthShare or one of these other sharing ministries? Let me know in the comments below!
I have to add that Liberty has a referral program available where they give you a $100 gift card for each account that signs up using your member ID (and they must stick with Liberty for at least two months)! That’s pretty cool.
So needless to say, if the information I’ve provided here has been helpful to you, and you feel Liberty HealthShare works for you and your family, please give me a shout, and I can provide you my member ID for when you sign up.