After talking to thousands of M$M readers online, some of the most common financial complaints I see are about the cost and quality of health insurance. Over the past few years, costs, coverage and plans have changed, causing many families to look outside of traditional health insurance to health sharing ministries, myself included.
When my wife and I left our traditional insurance plans behind with our teaching jobs, we decided to start looking at health care sharing ministries (there’s no M$M insurance package. I had been hearing good things about them from other blogger friends who turned to health ministries after going full-time with their blogs.
But, you don’t have to be self-employed to take advantage of their often much lower costs, which is why I’m doing this health share ministry comparison. For some families, the cost of health insurance has become equal to or exceeds their monthly mortgage payment, which puts a massive strain on their budget. Other people are just frustrated with the lack of in-network options available to them as health insurers continue to leave the coverage markets.
Health-sharing ministries aren’t new, but they have become more commonplace after the Affordable Care Act rolled out. Like I said, my wife and I now belong to a health sharing ministry, and we’ve been pretty happy so far. We’re healthy people, we have enough in the bank to cover any deductibles, and we make too much to qualify for subsidies under the ACA– all of which makes us good candidates for these plans.
Before I go into any of these plans, a couple of things to think about when it comes to traditional health insurance:
- Traditional health insurance doesn’t ensure you will have good health, it’s more like insurance that you won’t have a large medical bill. That’s because you pay in premiums and split the cost of healthcare with a large pool of people.
- The idea is that the pool of people will include enough healthy individuals to offset the costs of the less healthy (like, those with pre-existing conditions) and the less wealthy (the more people paying in can “split” the costs, sort of).
- The ACA’s mandated coverage, and subsequent penalties for being uninsured, will no longer be in effect come 2019. This penalty was part of the reason so many were turning to health care sharing ministries– despite not falling under the legal definition of health insurance, being a member of a sharing ministry means you won’t be penalized.
All of those points, in addition to rising costs overall, have left many people unsatisfied with the status quo. And, more and more of us (shout out to millennials here) are working jobs, like myself, that makes it increasingly difficult to buy into traditional forms of anything.
Still, is a health care sharing ministry right for you?
Health Share Ministry Comparison
Now, a few things to note before we jump into the health share ministry comparison:
1. These groups have membership requirements based on religious ideals and are not for everyone. I’ll talk more about this further down. This comparison is only meant to be a review for people who are unhappy with their current insurance and are interested in joining a health share ministry.
2. I am not professionally associated with any of these health share groups.
3. The information in this comparison is likely to change over time. I'll keep it updated, but make sure that you do your research before joining a health share ministry.
4. Yes, health care is a hot political topic right now. However, this is a non-political site! Please keep it that way in the comments 🙂
What are health care sharing ministries?
Health care sharing ministries are Christian-based health insurance alternatives that allow like-minded individuals to share healthcare costs among themselves. Members pay a monthly membership fee much like they would with insurance and can typically choose between varying levels of coverage depending on their particular medical needs.
When a medical need arises, the member submits their medical bills to their health share group and funds are shared by other members to cover the costs.
Health share groups are not insurance companies, and this is a major difference to break down.
- Traditional health insurance is a contractual agreement between the insurer and the insured. You pay for coverage and they guarantee care, no matter what.
- Health share ministries are voluntary, and they are not required by law to follow coverage guarantees. This means they may ask you to adhere to certain principles (insurable lifestyles and activities) and that they can deny claims that don’t uphold those principles.
- Unlike traditional health insurance, some health care sharing ministries may offer discounts for excellent health and/or require you to pay additional fees for poor health.
According to Healthcaresharing.org, there are currently over 960,000 people participating in various health share ministries. I expect this number will keep growing.
Final thing before we start looking at specific companies in this health share ministry comparison, these companies use a completely different set of terms. This terminology really sets them off from traditional health insurance, but can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with it. To help you as you read on, here are a few common health insurance terms and their health share counterparts:
- Deductibles are called personal responsibility, annual household portion (AHP), or annual unshared amount (AUA).
- Premiums are your monthly share.
- Claims are called eligible events, incidents, or illness.
- Explanation of benefits (EOB) is now an explanation of sharing (EOS).
Here are four of the most popular health share groups:
Liberty HealthShare has multiple program options with a pricing structure based on age and the number of people who will be covered by the selected sharing plan. In my opinion, Liberty HealthShare wins for their clear website layout, making it easy to find out information about high coverage limits and multiple plan options. For complete transparency, after my wife and I did our own health share ministry comparison, we decided to go with Liberty.
A few things to note about Liberty HealthShare:
- They are the most inclusive out of the companies I’ve included in this health share ministry comparison. Example: they are the only one who appears to cover pregnancy outside of marriage.
- Unlike other sharing ministries, they consider immunizations part of a shareable expense.
- They may not cover injuries due to activities deemed hazardous, which can include rock climbing, skydiving, or bungee jumping.
- Their HealthTrac program, an additional $80 per month, gives members a Health Coach to help them overcome chronic and/or correctible conditions, like high cholesterol, obesity, hypertension, etc. They require you to do this until your condition has been corrected.
Their sharing system is a six step process, which is closest to traditional health insurance. You contribute your monthly share, visit the doctor when needed, doctor submits the bill, and Liberty processes your request. The final two steps involve being paid out of a “share box,” AKA fund where the money is held, and then you and your doctor receive an Explanation of Sharing to confirm payment.
1. Liberty Complete:
- Single: $249-$312/month
- Couple: $349-$431/month
- Family: $479-$579/month
Members receive 100% reimbursement for medical bills up to $1,000,000 per medical event.
2. Liberty Plus:
- Single: $224-$287/month
- Couple: $324-$406/month
- Family: $454-$554/month
Members receive 100% reimbursement for medical bills up to $125,000 per medical event.
3. Liberty Share:
- Single: $199-$262/month
- Couple: $299-$381/month
- Family: $429-$529/month
Members receive 70% reimbursement for medical bills up to $125,000 per medical event.
For more information, visit Liberty HealthShare's FAQ.
Medi-Share is one of the most popular health share groups out there right now. My assistant Melissa and her family recently switched to them. Rather than just two or three plan options, Medi-Share has seven different levels of coverage to choose from, which makes it one of a kind in this health share ministry comparison.
A few things to note about Medi-Share:
- It is the only company with no lifetime or per incident/illness maximums.
- You must use up your AHP (deductible) before they begin to share the costs.
- They offer a program meant to supplement Medicare, called Senior Assist.
- Foor members meeting certain health standards, their Health Incentive program gives you up to a 20% discount on your monthly share. You can read more about this below.
The monthly pricing for Medi-Share is based on the AHP amount that you choose as well as your age and number of family members that need sharing.
Unlike the rest of the companies in this health share ministry comparison, Medi-Share does not list their specific monthly plans on their website. However, they do have a Share Amount Calculator that will show users their AHP (Annual Household Portion) and monthly share prices.
You can see the quote that my wife and I received below:
The “Healthy Monthly Share” program
This is an incentivized program, up to 20% off your monthly share, for households meeting their Health Incentive standards, which are based on waist measurement, BMI, and blood pressure.
For more information, visit Medi-Share's FAQ page.
Christian Healthcare Ministry
Christian Healthcare Ministry has a simple payment structure and the lowest monthly costs of the four groups mentioned in my health share ministry comparison, but they also have higher minimums to receive sharing benefits. In addition, the website seems more “old school” than the other sharing groups reviewed in this article, and that seems to be an overall thing with CHM– bills and forms are submitted either manually (snail mail) or through an online portal, making this probably the least “millennial-friendly” of the companies in this health share ministry comparison.
A few things to note about CHM:
- Their prices only change across coverage, not age, meaning millennials would be paying the same rates as their parents.
- You are free to choose whichever healthcare provider you like.
- You are responsible for negotiating your bill with your provider, then submitting the bill for sharing.
- They cover as many “incidents” or medical expenses per year as necessary. Maternity coverage is considered one incident, starting from the first OBGYN visit to the follow up ones after the birth.
This sharing ministry seems to be more suited as an insurance supplement rather than a total healthcare solution. They even say that they should be the last step in covering your bills, using Medicare, Medicaid, worker’s compensation, etc. before bringing your bill to them for sharing. Even the highest level plan will require you to pay all expenses less than $500 out of pocket, and that’s per incident.
All of the plans from Christian Healthcare Ministry are based on what they call units, and this actually makes things really easy to understand. One unit is one person, a couple is two units, and a family, regardless of the number of children dependants, is three units.
The gold plan is CHM's most comprehensive sharing plan and costs $150 per unit/month. Any medical expense that you incur which costs more than $500 will be fully covered under their sharing policy. Any expense under $500 will be out of pocket. This is their only plan that covers doctor’s visits or prescriptions, and those are only if related to an incident.
You can receive up to $125,000 in sharing coverage per illness.
The silver plan costs $85 per unit/month. Any expense under $1,000 will be your responsibility.
You can receive up to $125,000 in sharing coverage per illness.
The bronze plan costs $45 per unit/month. Any expense under $5,000 will be your responsibility.
You can receive up to $125,000 in sharing coverage per illness.
The Brother’s Keeper Add On
If you are concerned about bills reaching over $125,000 per incident or illness, CHM offers the Brother’s Keeper program to offset eligible costs even more. It averages $25 per quarter and there is an additional yearly administration fee of $40.
What the Brother’s Keeper plan does:
- For Gold Plans, BK adds unlimited cost support per diagnosis.
- For Silver and Bronze Plans, it provides an additional $100,000 of cost support. With each annual Brother’s Keeper renewal, members receive an additional $100,000 of assistance, accruing up to $1 million per diagnosis.
For more information, visit Christian Healthcare Ministry's FAQ page.
Samaritan only has two levels of coverage, Basic and Classic, and your share depends on your age and family size. The website has a simple clean look that is easy to navigate.
Members may use whichever provider they like, negotiate their bill, and submit it to Samaritan. Then, I found this really interesting, Samaritan sends your need out to other members to share the cost. Rather than the company paying you back, members actually send you personal checks, often including notes of prayer or encouragement.
Notable things about Samaritan Ministries:
- They have the most exclusive eligibility requirements out of the four companies in this health share ministry comparison, including annual verification from a church official stating that you attend services a certain number of times per month.
- After you negotiate your bill with a provider and submit it for sharing, Samaritan may outsource some of the costs, before sharing, if they feel you didn’t receive a large enough discount. They may ask you to no longer see a provider who doesn’t discount enough.
- They have extra sharing coverage called “Save to Share” for needs over $250k. Members pay anywhere from $133-$399 per year to a personal savings account that can be used for sharing at anytime.
- When you submit a need, a bill for an incident or illness, they ask that you also include a note explaining your need to be shared in their Prayer Guide.
Like I said, Samaritan has two levels of membership, and the costs vary in each of those levels based on age and family size. They make it really easy to see your projected cost with their cost calculator.
All of the plans work the same way: all qualified medical expenses between $300 and $250,000 per incident will be shared. Anything less than $300 or more than $250,000 per incident will not be shared.
Samaritan Classic Membership
- 29 and under: One person $160, families $440-$495
- 30 and up: One Person $220, families $440-$496
Samaritan Basic Membership
- Ages 0-29: One person $100, families $200-$250
- Ages 30-44: One person $120, families $240-$300
- Ages 45-59: One person $140, families $280-$350
- Ages 60 and up: One person $160, families $320-$400
For more information, visit Samaritan Ministry's FAQ page.
What about people with pre-existing conditions?
All four of the companies in this health share ministry comparison have fairly strict requirements regarding pre-existing conditions. So, if you have a pre-existing condition, health share ministries may not be the best immediate health care option for you.
The most common policy is a tiered system, where the member pays into the health sharing group for a full year before receiving any sharing benefits for the pre-existing condition.
You can read more about each of the pre-existing condition policies below:
What about tobacco and alcohol use?
All of the health share ministries in this comparison have tobacco requirements that range from showing proof of quitting tobacco within six months of joining to abstaining from tobacco for a full year before.
When it comes to alcohol, their key seems to be responsible use (which should always be the case). And, all of these companies may deny sharing if you have an incident or illness that is related to alcohol abuse.
Do you have to be Christian to use these services?
In short, yes, or you at least need to live by Christian values. All of the companies in this health share ministry comparison, have a faith-based requirement with varying levels of participation within the religious community. If you don't agree with the religious ideals of these health share ministries or attend church regularly, you may find that these services aren't the best fit for your particular situation.
They all have policies that reflect their principles, and those are important to understand before choosing which one is right for you. They have strict guidelines on things like birth control, self-harm, diseases or pregnancy outside of marriage, to name a few.
Overall, health share ministries can be a good alternative or supplement to your existing health insurance plan. Many of these services are reasonably priced and provide a good level of financial support for medical needs.
If you are a smoker or someone that primarily needs insurance for a pre-existing condition, health share groups might not immediately be the best option for you.
The thing that I think is most attractive about these policies is that they are working against the current healthcare system. Like I said from the get go, I don’t want to get political here, but I think we can all agree that things aren’t quite working, and the influx in members of health sharing ministries seems to prove that something has to give.