See if a health-care sharing ministry is right for you.
Rising health-care costs and changing insurance programs have inspired many people to seek alternative health-care options. Among the more unusual options is the health-care sharing ministry. With this type of plan, you contribute an annual fee for membership. After you meet a specified out-of-pocket limit, the plan will typically begin paying for covered health-care costs. The costs of these programs can be significantly less than qualifying health-care coverage from the health-care marketplace or an independent insurance broker. However, these programs differ from traditional insurance in a number of ways.
Benefits of joining a health-care sharing ministry
While health-care sharing ministries have existed for decades, they became especially popular when the Affordable Care Act went into effect. These organizations were seen as an option for people who want inexpensive health coverage.
A health-care sharing ministry might be an affordable option if you fit the criteria for membership. You can usually sign up for a health-care sharing ministry any time of year. If you missed open enrollment, but are still looking for health coverage, a health-care sharing ministry may be an option for you.
A health-care sharing ministry can be good for those whose lifestyles fit the criteria. While criteria vary from plan to plan, you might need to agree to certain behavioral standards and beliefs. The plans may require that you be a Christian. They might also specify a Biblical lifestyle that restricts activities such as drinking, smoking, or sex outside of marriage. If these fall in line with your specific lifestyle, membership in Christian health-care plans can be affordable and affirming of your faith.
A health-sharing ministry might save you money if you don’t expect many doctor or hospital visits. If you are healthy and are comfortable paying for certain preventative care out of pocket, savings can amount to thousands a year in some cases.
Some people like the community aspect of religious cost-sharing. Since covered health-care costs are generally paid for by the program and fees paid by its members, the ministry can offer a feeling of stewardship toward one another.
Drawbacks of a health-care sharing ministry
In the past, membership in a health-care sharing ministry exempted members from penalties for lack of coverage under the Affordable Care Act. However, since the federal government will not assess fines for lack of insurance in 2019, this is no longer a factor as of the publishing date of this article.
The exclusivity mentioned among the benefits, of course, cuts both ways. In general, a health-care sharing ministry will not accept someone who is not Christian. Since a health-care sharing ministry is exempt from the rules that govern insurance companies, it may also deny coverage on the basis of weight, sexual orientation or other factors.
An application for a health-care sharing ministry may ask you to affirm statements like “abortion is wrong” or “marriage is only between a man and a woman.” If these are terms that do not align with your personal ethics and morality, signing such an affidavit may be a deal-breaker for you.
There are many health-care benefits that may be denied under the terms of a health-care sharing ministry. For instance, many say in their terms that they will not cover costs associated with a pregnancy that is the result of adultery. Many plans also do not cover preventative care such as checkups, immunizations or birth control.
How to sign up for a health-care sharing ministry
Because they don’t have to conform with the Affordable Care Act, health-care sharing ministries can add members at any time, instead of just during open enrollment. Someone who is interested in a health-care sharing ministry can research options online to find one that best aligns with their specific religious beliefs. eHealth, for instance, offers Medi-Share through their website. (The specific beliefs of Christian cost-sharing ministries are not necessarily those of eHealth.)
Alternatives to a health-sharing ministry
If you can’t afford a major medical health plan, but you’re not comfortable with a health-sharing ministry, you might have other options. For instance, a catastrophic health insurance plan may have a lower premium than a major medical insurance plan. Major medical plans may be more expensive, but can cost less out of pocket if you incur a lot of health-related costs.
By researching all of your options, you can compare the pros and cons of each and choose the one that best fits your lifestyle, your health-care needs and your budget. Compare health-care options on eHealth today. Just click the button on this page to get started.
This article is for general information and may not be updated after publication. Consult your own tax, accounting, or legal advisor instead of relying on this article as tax, accounting, or legal advice.