Healthcare Sharing Ministries: A Low-Cost Alternative to Pricey Health Insurance

Increasing numbers of Americans are joining healthcare sharing ministries rather than buying traditional insurance. These ministries are not insurance and aren’t over-regulated by states. Since Obamacare exempted members of ministries operating since at least 1999 from the fines of not purchasing insurance ($695), membership has doubled to nearly 500,000 members nationwide. These non-profits are well-managed, with annual audits and a proven history of paying members’ bills. State legislatures have backed the right of ministries to operate without interference.

Christian cost-sharing ministries, based on the Book of Acts, have been around for over 30 years. Using these sharing ministries costs on average 30% less than private insurance, with monthly fees ranging from $75/individual to $500/family, and about $1,500 out-of-pocket for a family “deductible” (not paid by the other members). Many of the approximately 50 healthcare ministries in the country are small and operated by Amish/Mennonite communities exercising religious freedom.

There are four large cost-sharing ministries in the country. Members are extremely satisfied. Joining a sharing ministry may require signing a statement of faith, promising to live by “biblical standards” (no tobacco, no illicit behavior), or a pastor’s approval of medical expenses. Liberty HealthShare is the only Obamacare-exempt ministry to accept people of many faiths, requiring only to “maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Christian Healthcare Ministries offers $45 a month as their lowest plan. Members pay into a joint account used for payments of eligible medical bills. Excluded bills range from routine physicals, pre-existing conditions, to pregnancies out of wedlock. Routine office visits are paid for out of pocket.

Samaritan Ministries started in 1994 as a home business and has had such success they recently moved into a three-story building and celebrated 50,000 members. Executive vice president of Samaritan, James Lansberry, said “None of us imagined it would be this big.” These cost-sharing ministries are making the broken healthcare system bearable.

Mutual aid societies, fighting compulsory insurance legislation following World War I, feared Americans would lose their “spirit of self-reliance”. These societies were no match for commercial insurance companies or the IRS’ 1943 tax breaks for employers offering workplace insurance.

Today, employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent workers may face fines of $2000 per employee – even if their employees are all members of one of these ministries. Many employers are using plans which meet the Minimum Essential Coverage provision under 4980H(a) of the Affordable Care Act and allow employees to open a health savings accounts to assist in paying medical bills in conjunction with faith-based healthcare sharing.

Employers have many opportunities to reduce costs and comply with Obamacare rules. These faith-based healthcare sharing ministries are one such opportunity. Others include plans which allow employees the freedom to go to any provider, capping the reimbursement at a reasonable rate. Healthcare sharing can reduce employer costs by 60%, while these freedom plans cut costs by 35% or more.

Armour, Stephanie. “More People Turn to Faith-Based Groups for Health Coverage.” Business. The Wall Street Journal, 4 Jan 2016. Web. 10 Jan 2016.

Worthen, Molly. “Onward, Christian Health Care?” Sunday Review. The New York Times, 31 Jan 2015. Web. 10 Jan 2016.

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