Insurance can be a huge pain if you’re not prepared for the costs of buying your own insurance plan. I know because I left my corporate, 9-5 job last year and the awesome insurance plan that went along with it.
While it was definitely worth the leap of faith in self-employment one thing is for sure. Paying your own health insurance, after never having done so, is one of the biggest downsides to self-employment.
Especially if you are healthy and haven’t used it once!
But everyone needs to have some type of health insurance or health sharing plan to avoid tax penalties. Plus, you need insurance in case of major accidents and potential expenses that come with them.
After 12 months of paying for COBRA, I can say it’s one of the biggest expenses for an entrepreneur. There are several options if your employer doesn’t provide insurance or you are self-employed.
- COBRA Health Insurance
- The Marketplace
- Private Insurance
- Health Sharing Ministries
I chose to go with COBRA as the Marketplace wasn’t much cheaper and offered horrible premiums and deductibles compared to my past plan. But at the end of 2018, my COBRA insurance plan will expire and I’ll have to find something new.
If you don’t have insurance, are between jobs, or need a new alternative, health sharing ministries are a great option. While not nearly as common as the ACA Marketplace or COBRA insurance, health sharing ministries are a great way to protect yourself and your family.
Here’s everything you need to know about health sharing plans as an alternative to traditional health insurance.
What are Medical Cost Sharing Ministries?
If this is the first time reading about this topic, you might be asking “What are health sharing ministries?” If this is you don’t worry, I was there too until last year.
Prior to becoming self-employed, I had never heard of a health sharing ministries. Now I read constantly about other self-employed bloggers, freelancers, and people without insurance choosing them.
To clarify, with 100% certainty, health sharing ministries are not health care or health insurance! You must meet all requirements and have the same religious beliefs to be accepted into any health sharing ministry.
These are ways to help plan ahead for unexpected expenses if you don’t have typical health insurance. Health-sharing ministries are not a discounted insurance program and totally different than traditional health insurance. They are alternatives that will help you share the cost of expenses with others in your plan.
Medical cost-sharing ministries are a group of people who band together to help each other pay for medical expenses.
Unlike traditional health insurance plans, there is no network such as Blue Cross Blue Shield. You are able to visit any provider of your choice and use your membership card when they ask for insurance.
Depending on the health sharing ministry, you will pay in person and be reimbursed or they will be billed directly. This is very different than traditional health insurance!
4 HealthCare Sharing Ministries
Medi-Share is another health sharing ministry that is very popular and also exempt from paying the ACA tax penalty. Unlike the first two health sharing ministries, they do help negotiate expenses on your behalf. This is a huge benefit as it can be very difficult to negotiate without the help of insurance providers.
Information is sparse on Medi-share compared to the first two health sharing plans. Their website makes you submit information to learn more.
Medi-Share’s payments are based on age, size of household, and the program option you choose. The annual amount of eligible medical bills that a household must meet before any eligible bill may be shared among the members.
Once you meet your annual household payment, all eligible bills will be processed for sharing for the entire household. Not per person or per event. It is one amount for the entire family for the year.
There are seven AHP options to choose from:
- $1,000 (only available for unmarried members between the age of 18-29)
Members pay a $35 provider fee at each office or hospital visit and $135 for emergency room visits. It’s important to note these fees do not count towards the AHP.
What You Need to Know
To be a Medi-Share member you must meet the following qualifications:
- Live in one of the 26 states where they are accepted
- Must have a verifiable Christian testimony indicating a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ
- Share the conviction that believers are to bear one another’s burdens
- Not engage in sex outside of traditional biblical marriage
- Not use tobacco or illegal drugs in any form
- Be a U.S citizen or a permanent resident with a visa or green card and SS number
Like others, Medi-Share is not insurance but still worth nothing. Learn more about Medi-Share here.
2. Samaritan Ministries
As stated on their website, “Samaritan Ministries members are a group of believers that have come together in Biblical community to help bear one another’s medical burdens without the use of health insurance.”
Samaritan Ministries are available in all 50 states and some foreign countries. The monthly sharing expenses can vary as they depend on your marital status, age, and the number of dependents. They offer two packages; the Samaritan Basic and Samaritan Classic.
Here is an example of the breakdown for a married couple who are both 40 years old with one dependent.
Samaritan Basic / Samaritan Classic Plans
- Monthly share: $300/$495. This is based on age and household size. This is the amount you send directly to other members each month.
- Initial Unshareable: $1,500/$300. The sharing only starts once a need exceeds these two threshold amounts.
- Sharing Percentage: 90%/100%. Once you are eligible for your shareable amount 90 or 100% of anything additional is covered.
- Maternity Limit: $5,000/$250,000. This is the maximum that can be shared for any maternity need. If you are pregnant or plan on having children the classic is the only way to go.
- Max Shareable Amount: $236,500/$250,000. This is the maximum amount that’s shareable per need.
What You Need to Know
Joining either of these plans will cost you $200 as a one-time startup fee. This fee is non-refundable, even if you are only enrolled for a few months. For any need over $250,000, you can join the optional, Save to Share plan. This is $399 per year with a $15 annual administrative fee.
For the first two months of the membership, you will send payment to the office. After the first two months, you will then send payments directly to members in need. Other ministries you will send payment directly to them and they will dispense to the recipients as needed.
One major downside about Samaritan is that you are responsible for negotiating with medical providers directly.
Lastly, if you wish to join this health sharing ministry you do need to practice an evangelical faith. Click here to learn more about Samaritan Ministries.
3. Christian Healthcare Ministries
Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM) is an affordable, biblical, and compassionate faith-based healthcare cost solution for Christians in all 50 states and around the world. CHM is a nonprofit health cost-sharing ministry in which Christians share each other’s medical bills. Again, this is not a typical insurance company.
They offer three main programs; gold, silver, and bronze. You also have the ability to add on “Brother’s Keeper.” This is a catastrophic medical bill program that increases your lifetime max per illness for anything over $125,000. The annual fee for “Brother’s Keeper” is an additional $40 per family.
Gold Program ($150 per person, per month)
- The Gold program provides members with the ministry’s most extensive financial support.
- Christian Healthcare Ministries will cover 100% of bills for any medical incident over $500.
- Unlimited financial assistance with Brother’s Keeper.
Silver Program ($85 per person, per month)
- The silver program allows you $1,000 personal responsibility before CHM contributes.
- Once your $1,000 is met you can receive up to $125,000 per illness.
- Brother’s Keeper increases $100,000 of extra support. You can accrue up to $1 million per illness.
Bronze Program ($45 per person, per month)
- The bronze program allows you $5,000 personal responsibility before CHM contributes.
- Once your $5,000 is met you can receive up to $125,000 per illness.
- Brother’s Keeper increases $100,000 of extra support. Like other plans, you can accrue up to $1 million per illness.
Using the previous example (40-year old married couple with one dependent) here are the prices for each program:
- Gold Program: $450 per month
- Silver Program: $255 per month
- Bronze Program: $135 per month
Each person is known as “units.” For example, two people equal two units.
You can also choose different programs for different people on the plan. For example, you can be on the gold program while a healthier spouse or child can be on the silver or bronze plan. Mixing and matching will change the price listed above. If someone is healthier or younger a bronze or silver plan can save you big each month!
What You Need to Know
To be a CHM member you must meet the following qualifications:
- Must be Christians living by biblical principles (this includes abstaining from the use of tobacco and the illegal use of drugs
- Follow biblical teaching on the use of alcohol, and attending group worship regularly if health permits
- There are no restrictions based on age, weight, geographic location or health history.
CHM also does not help negotiate your bills or make payments in your name. Also, payments are sent directly to CHM.
Learn more about Christian Health Ministries here.
4. Liberty HealthShare
The final health sharing plan is Liberty Healthshare. Unlike Medi-Share, Liberty is available in all 50 states and has a strong reputation online! They offer three programs; Liberty Complete, Liberty Plus, and Liberty Share.
All programs are based on single, couples, and families. The prices are also based on three age brackets (under 30, 30-65 years old, & over 65).
Liberty Complete Sharing Ministry Plan
Liberty Complete is the most comprehensive plan offered by Liberty HealthShare. All members share eligible medical costs up to $1,000,000 per incident. The annual unshared amount is $500 for individuals, $1,000 for couples, and $1,500 for families.
Here are the costs for the most expansive plan offered:
|30-65 Years Old||65+ Years Old|
Liberty Plus Sharing Ministry Plan
Liberty Complete is the middle plan offered by Liberty HealthShare. Like the Liberty Complete plan, all members share eligible medical costs up to $1,000,000 per incident. The annual unshared amount remains the same at $500 for individuals, $1,000 for couples, and $1,500 for families.
Here are the costs for the mid-range plan:
|30-65 Years Old||65+ Years Old|
For those who choose Liberty Plus or Liberty Complete can also receive discounts on vision, pharmacy, hearing, chiropractic, and other services by enrolling in SavNet Health Savings Discounts. The SavNet fee is included in both of the above plans and only requires a one-time, $10 setup charge.
This is a huge benefit to choose one of these two plans as it can save you and the group tons in the long run.
Liberty Share Sharing Ministry Plan
Liberty Share is the most basic plan offered by Liberty HealthShare and great for those who are on a tight budget. With this plan, Liberty Share members share up to 70% of eligible medical costs up to $125,000 per incident.
Medical expenses are met on a per person, per incident basis when treated by urgent care facilities, physicians, emergency rooms, clinics or hospitals. This applies to both inpatient and outpatient services.
The annual unshared amount is $500 for individuals, $1,000 for couples, and $1,500 for families.
Here are the costs for Liberty’s most basic health sharing plan:
|30-65 Years Old||65+ Years Old|
What You Need to Know
To be a Liberty HealthShare member you must meet the following qualifications:
- Agree to share one another’s burdens and all other shared beliefs mentioned in their comprehensive qualifications page.
- Believe that your body is a temple
- Eat foods that nourish your body not harm it
- Do not drink alcohol in excess
- Do not use tobacco products
- Exercise regularly
- Worship regularly with others
If you choose Liberty Heath Sharing I would recommend the Liberty Complete or Liberty Plus as you can access the SaveNet discounts as well. Learn more about Liberty Healthshare here.
9 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Health Sharing Plans
1. How Do Health Sharing Ministries Work?
For most cases, you will present your health sharing membership card upon arrival. In essence, everyone in the ministry pays a specified amount each month. This is known as an annual personal responsibility or unshared amount. Think of it as a deductible in a traditional health insurance program.
If your medical bills go past a specific amount then the expenses are shared by the group within your ministry. Some doctors or medical providers won’t accept them and you will need to pay with cash. In this case, you will be reimbursed by the ministry.
For more specific questions and restrictions about health sharing ministries keep reading to the faqs. Here are the four most common health sharing ministries so you can learn more and see if they are a good fit for your family.
2. What are the differences between each of the health sharing ministries?
While none of these plans are health insurance they have similarities to major plans. Instead of paying a monthly premium (like in health insurance) you pay monthly amounts for yourself and family. Each plan also has different requirements and total covered amounts per event.
3. What type of restrictions are there for new participants?
Each health sharing plan has their own restrictions and qualifications. Make sure you read through them carefully to ensure you qualify and are eligible to enroll in the specific plan.
4. Are families allowed in health sharing plans?
Yes, all the plans mentioned above do allow families. Each plan will be different but each adult must meet all the requirements on each site. The fees are higher as the costs are dependent upon the number of people enrolled in the health sharing plan.
5. How does it work with the Affordable Care Act?
As members of a non-insurance health care sharing ministry, members have an exemption from the federal requirement that they must have insurance or pay a penalty-tax.
6. Do I still have to pay each month if I don’t have any medical expenses?
Yes, similar to not having any insurance claims you are still responsible for making your monthly payments.
7. What if I have pre-existing conditions?
This is different for each health sharing ministry. Some of them might not allow you to be eligible for the first year of your membership like Liberty Healthshare.
8. Is there a commitment to my membership?
No, from what I’ve researched there are not 6 or 12-month terms. If you miss a payment or it’s late your service will become inactive and might need to re-enroll.
9. Can I enroll in both traditional health insurance AND a health sharing plan?
Technically, yes, you can enroll in both but it would most likely be much more expensive. On Liberty’s site, it notes that some members enroll simply to help others and never plan on submitting bills.
Healthcare Sharing Ministries vs. ACA: Which Should You Choose?
Now that you have learned about health care sharing ministries you should take time and compare with your current plans. Figure out what will work best for you and your family.
I’d recommend sticking with traditional health insurance if you do any of the following.
1. Take prescription drugs
Some health sharing plans won’t cover all medications and prescriptions, unlike ACA plans. Paying prescriptions without any type of insurance can be incredibly expensive!
2. Indulge in tobacco use
If you use tobacco none of the four health sharing ministries above will allow you to enroll. While this might be a good reason to stop tobacco, know that it is not allowed with any of these health sharing plans.
3. Have an HSA (health savings account)
Unfortunately, you can’t pair an HSA with a health sharing plan to save even more on taxes.
4. Have a chronic or pre-existing condition
Some, but not all, health sharing plans won’t allow you to enroll if you have chronic or pre-existing medical conditions. Even if you have a recurring condition I’d recommend sticking with traditional health insurance.
Recurring incidents will be charged each time as a new medical service even though it might be treating the same issue.
Healthcare Sharing ministries won’t be for everyone but might be a good fit for:
- A Christian who likes the idea of sharing costs with like-minded individuals. If you believe in helping others and sharing costs, this is a great option.
- You want to use doctors in different networks and areas. With health sharing ministries you don’t have to worry if your provider is in the network or out of network. This can be a huge benefit for someone who doesn’t love going to one provider or wants multiple opinions on complex medical conditions.
- People who live in expensive ACA states. Each individual’s costs will be different but some states are much higher costs than health sharing plans.
- Healthy individuals. These plans can be great if you rarely go to the doctor but want a safety net in case something big does come up. Plus, you will need to have a traditional or health care sharing plan to avoid tax penalties.
Ready To Switch From Health Insurance?
At the end of the day, switching from traditional health insurance to a health sharing plan is always an option. If you’ve been enrolled in a traditional health insurance plan it might feel like a big difference but it can save you thousands each year. Remember, don’t just choose the plan that is the cheapest, find the one that works best for you and your family.
Health-sharing plans are much less expensive, generally have a lower deductible, lower annual costs and helps you share the cost with other like-minded individuals. Plus, you can avoid the penalty for not having health insurance.
But if you have chronic medical conditions, prescriptions or don’t meet the faith requirements stick with traditional health insurance.
Are you enrolled in a health sharing ministry? How has your experience been thus far? Do you have any other advice for people thinking of making the switch from traditional health insurance?
Please let us know in the comments so you can help us learn more and help educate fellow readers thinking about making the switch. Thanks!
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