In light of a lot of recent events with my family and friends, health insurance has become a hot topic of discussion around these parts lately. One of the things that has come up is the concept of health sharing plans in lieu of traditional health insurance. The idea isn’t new – faith-based “health sharing arrangements” have been around since the early 80’s as an alternative to standard health insurance plans. The thing I’ve long hailed is that no matter what your lot in life, health insurance is a necessity. I believe you take too big a risk of sinking your financial ship if you do not carry at least basic major medical coverage of some sort, and I even dedicated a portion of my book to that very notion.
There are plenty of folks out there that don’t have insurance and can’t afford to spend the money to buy it. For a standard family plan, even when everybody is healthy, it is possible to spend $1,000 or more per month for basic health coverage. Costs vary wildly across the country and based on too many factors to get into here, so let me sum up my findings on traditional insurance with one statement: it is EXPENSIVE. So alternatives to traditional health insurance are always of interest to those who want a safety net but don’t want to pay an insurance company.
Since I didn’t know much about the alternatives (other than Medicare and the like), someone asked me specifically what I thought about health sharing plans like Medi-Share or Samaritan Ministries. I’ve done some research and want to share what I’ve found. Before I continue, please know I’m not an expert so I’d love your comments and feedback on your knowledge and experience with these health insurance alternatives.
First, I found out that they are a viable alternative to traditional insurance, but they are not actual insurance. Here’s basically how it works. Each month, members pay a fixed amount into a pool, which is jointly shared among a large group of members. That pool covers the medical needs of those who submit claims and the general administrative expenses of the program. Unlike medical insurance, you are able to learn how the monies were spent and how coverage is handled. In fact, Medi-Share is proud of the fact that its members actually vote on what gets covered and what doesn’t.
Second, if the much-debated health care reform laws are enacted in 2014 as planned, these health sharing plans have already gained an exemption from the government-mandated health care, meaning they are (even in the government’s eyes) a reasonable health plan. For many of you out there, this is a big deal.
Third, I found a major quirk with these types of health sharing arrangements that you won’t usually find with insurance. This is where I spent most of my time learning and what I would suggest you really look into if you’re considering these types of programs. Health sharing plans are very up-front in saying that they won’t cover every type of medical expense that comes along and they set some expectations up front on who can join. Samaritan Ministries openly shares in its guidelines that you must proclaim Christ as your savior, attend church regularly, abstain from tobacco and/or drugs, and limit your alcohol intake. I guarantee you’ll never read that in a traditional insurance policy!
I only found one big thing that bothered me about these plans – eligibility. With traditional insurance, you’re usually covered for just about anything that falls under your plan. With health sharing arrangements, that may or may not be the case. For example, while the rules around it don’t seem like they’re too tough to follow, it is very possible that I could submit a bill and the members could opt to not share the funds to pay it. This was a concern I found over and over in the online articles I read, as well as a question addressed by Medi-Share and Samaritan Ministries. Their answers are almost identical: if you are living a biblical Christian lifestyle and have a health issue, you can be confident it will be covered. That only makes me feel a little better.
So what are my final thoughts? If I couldn’t get a good traditional health insurance policy, I would strongly consider a health sharing arrangement. For the average uninsured person, this type of plan might just be the best safety net your money can buy. Is it as good as traditional health insurance? My vote is no. However, it is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying out of pocket for medical bills and much less expensive than buying an individual policy.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to know your experience with these plans, good or bad.
*This post is linked at Frugal Days Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable.