Sharing Health Expenses
By Ken Walker-
The June 1st issue of World magazine includes a feature about the growth of Christian health cost sharing ministries, amid fears that traditional health insurance will soon become too expensive. Many would argue that is already true.
I wrote a sidebar about the Kentucky legislature passing a bill this spring that will enable members of these kind of ministries to participate without running afoul of state insurance regulations.
Before working on it, I disclosed to the editor that I am a member of Christian Care Medi-Share, the plan that the state had forced to stop operating January 1, 2013. However, since we don’t live in Kentucky, I wasn’t directly involved in the situation.
Sharing the Expense
There are three major health cost sharing ministries operating across the nation, and many smaller ones. Though particulars vary, their philosophy is similar: believers help other believers pay their health care bills.
As the Kentucky senator who sponsored the bill to allow Medi-Share to resume pointed out, there are Amish, Baptist and Catholic groups doing the same thing: “If the state wanted to take them on, they could have shut them down too.”
Why Kentucky would persist in denying people the right to voluntarily participate in a program that didn’t have anyone up in arms is a question residents of that state should press with their legislators.
When I asked the insurance office what had prompted them to file a lawsuit a decade ago, a spokesperson cited two complaints that she later admitted were filed several years after the lawsuit. They turned out to be from hospitals who thought they should have been paid faster.
Proving Their Value
Legally, these plans aren’t insurance, since they lack the guarantees that bills will get paid. Nor do they have the financial reserves that insurance companies maintain.
Yet, after more than 15 years of participating in these sharing ministries, I think they have proven their value.
Most of that time has been with Medi-Share. After breaking my finger the year after signing up, I saw them take care of the bills fairly promptly after I had paid the standard deductible.
However, a couple years later my wife needed expensive surgery that ultimately cost nearly $50,000. I will never forget the day a copy of the hospital bill showing up and getting wobbly in the knees.
Paying several hundred dollars in bills is one thing, but when you’re staring at a statement for around $28,000? That is serious.
Thousands of Dollars Later…
The nervousness I felt that day proved to be groundless. Not only did they pay for that surgery, when my wife later had gall bladder surgery, they picked up the costs that her now-primary coverage didn’t cover.
Medi-Share has also defrayed nearly all the expenses of three different heart stent procedures, plus the double bypass I had in January of 2008. Though I long ago lost track of the amount, a guesstimate would be around $200,000. I know a man in Florida who saw more than $800,000 in bills paid after his brain cancer surgery.
Not only has this sharing plan demonstrated its value, it does so for a much lower monthly “premium” (in quotes because the program calls it a monthly share, but in essence it’s the same thing).
Since costs vary by age and family size, I can’t list set figures. But over the years I talked with three other self-employed individuals. The premiums for their traditional insurance plans were three times as much as mine.
I recently had lunch with a friend whose wife, using a federal guarantee, kept her traditional group insurance after losing her job late last year. Her monthly premiums are nearly twice what I pay.
Despite the staggering expense of traditional insurance, few people have ever taken me up on my recommendations that they consider a sharing plan. Naturally, these plans have their shortcomings and limitations, as does traditional insurance. There is no perfect coverage.
Still, with the federal law kicking in next year that will require individuals to get some form of health insurance or pay a fine, it is worth remembering that participants in a sharing ministry are exempted from this mandate. Peace of mind is worth something.