Health care sharing ministries have surged in popularity over the last decade as an alternative to traditional health insurance plans. These non-profit organizations appeal to people’s religious faith and desire for an affordable way to pay medical bills.
Unfortunately, they may not be as beneficial as they first appear.
The risks of health care sharing ministries
It is important to understand that health care sharing ministries do not have the same legal protections as regulated insurance. These organizations are essentially cooperative cost-sharing groups, not insurance providers. Members pay a monthly fee that goes towards covering each other’s eligible medical expenses. But there is no guarantee that they will cover your medical bills when you need care.
Lack of coverage requirements
Unlike insurance plans, health care sharing ministries have no obligation to cover pre-existing conditions, mental health services, substance abuse treatment or maternity care. There are also caps on how much they will pay per incident, typically around $250,000.
Many members have ended up with crippling medical debt because their sharing ministry refused to pay their bills. This is particularly important when it comes to being seriously injured in something like a car accident where costs can easily meet or exceed those caps.
Additionally, some of these health care sharing plans prohibit payment when it’s a case where there could be a third party liable. This is important because first, the patient is stuck with the sticker price bill and second, you’re never guaranteed to make a recovery in a claim. Especially in a situation with disputed liability where a loss at trial would be devastating to a person’s finances if they’re saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical debt.
Sharing ministries versus traditional plans
Health care sharing ministries, such as Christian Medishare, became popular after the Affordable Care Act as a cheaper alternative to regulated insurance plans. Unfortunately, cheaper can come at a steep cost if you have an accident or major illness. Sharing ministries make it clear in their policies that they are not legally responsible for paying any percentage of members’ medical bills and they likely won’t benefit from the same reduced prices that a traditional insurance plan can negotiate with providers.
At the end of the day, you have to make the right choice for you and your family when it comes to choosing how to insure yourselves against medical care needs. Some people have chosen health care sharing ministries and had great outcomes. Others have had the opposite experience. The more you understand about the logistics of health care sharing ministries, the easier it is to evaluate the risks, protect your rights and get the coverage that you need.