What’s the Alternative to Health Insurance? Health Care for People of Christian Faith

  • Are you confused about all the changes in health care, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare?
  • Are you frustrated with rising health insurance costs, losing your insurance plan, losing the doctor you like, or new policy terms and conditions?
  • Are you frustrated by the complexities of choosing a health insurance plan that meets the criteria of Obamacare?
  • Are you concerned about sharing your private information and medical history on a government exchange website?
  • Are you afraid you will be denied for health insurance because you plan to travel long term internationally, or otherwise may not be considered a resident of the United States for any amount of time?

If you answer yes to even one of these questions and if you are a believer in the Christian faith then there is at least one alternative to health insurance for you that most people don’t know about, which complies with Obamacare. One of the few alternatives to health insurance is to join a “health care sharing ministry.” Since the 1980s health care sharing ministries have been emerging as an alternative to health insurance, and now more than ever before, memberships of health care sharing ministries are increasing. This approach is called a “religious exemption” and satisfies the individual mandate in the recent federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act, and is one of the only exceptions to the requirement to have insurance or pay a penalty tax. See 26 United States Code Section 5000A, (d), (2), (B) and also see Sec. 1501 (b) of HR 3590 at pg. 327, 328).

Read on if you’d like to know more about health care sharing ministries and how this alternative to health insurance can save you money as compared to insurance, protect you from financial hardship, ease stress as it has for my family, and allow you to live in Biblical community, in addition to abiding by the new laws of the Affordable Care Act.

 

 

Health care sharing ministries is like health insurance in that your medical needs are covered; however, there are many notable differences between these two health care options. For instance, health care sharing with its lower monthly payments and deductibles is much more affordable than health insurance. To illustrate, my family is a member of Samaritan Ministries International, and our monthly payment is $315 with a $300 deductible per medical need. This is a sharp contrast to insurance policies with similar coverage which would cost us a $600 monthly payment and a $10,000 deductible. Health care sharing ministries, like Samaritan Ministries, are able to provide such low rates because they are non-profit organizations, whereas insurance companies charge high premiums and deductibles with the goal of making a profit.

Additionally, Obamacare does not require you to buy health insurance if doing so would violate your faith. Whether popular or not, Obamacare is now the law of the land, and unfortunately, health insurance consumers do not have a voice in how insurance companies use the monthly premiums they pay. Their monthly premiums pay for other peoples’ health care costs which may include abortions and treatments of conditions resulting from practices such as having sexual relations outside of marriage and alcohol and drug abuse, which many Christians would agree violates their faith. Instead, health care sharing ministries allows Christian consumers to live consistently with their beliefs by sharing medical needs directly with fellow believers through this non-insurance approach.

One of the best things about being a member of Samaritan Ministries International, or other similar health care sharing ministries, is the support from fellow members to all aspects of the medical need, including the emotional and spiritual dimensions. Members know who their money is going, how it will be used, and many send notes of encouragement and comfort. Member monthly payments go to individuals (other members) with medical needs to pay medical providers directly, not to insurance companies. This leads to another important difference between health insurance and health care sharing ministries. When an insurance company is not in the equation as the middle man between patient and provider, then doctors and patients are the only ones deciding what’s best for the patient’s health care—not an insurance underwriter, adjuster, or government bureaucrat, all whom are notorious for inefficiency, poor communication, and denying claims. And members of a health care sharing ministry will not have to fear that government intervention will cause rationing of their health care. Furthermore, choosing health care sharing that allows us to properly align our living and our spending with our values, in a responsible way that helps people in need and directly pays doctors, is rewarding. There are many benefits in choosing an alternative to health insurance 

As members of Samaritan Ministries International, my wife and I absolutely love trusting members with our health care costs. It was a step of faith for us in the beginning to trust in how this ministry works, but we began trusting our health care completely to the Lord Jesus through members of the Samaritan community, and it has worked for us as we had to use this for two major health care needs this year. 

Samaritan members have come through for us each time we had medical needs in our family. One medical need of my wife’s required an MRI and lumbar puncture procedure, as well as follow-up doctor visits. The bills totaled $9,566.00, but the medical providers gladly offered us discounts, simply because we asked kindly, eliminating $5,464.16 off our balance due. That left us a balance of only $4,101.84, which we were reimbursed in full via personal checks from other members through the Samaritan Ministries International’s very organized system for ensuring every medical need is covered (more about that later in this article). Along with their reimbursement checks, members sent us encouraging handwritten notes and prayers written to my wife. Additionally, our deductible (“Share”) was $0 for this medical need, because Samaritan reduces the Share when discounts are negotiated. Our monthly membership payment never exceeded our set amount, and our rate hasn’t increased due to having a medical need.

The second medical need my wife had was for ingrown toe nail surgery in two toes. This surgery would have cost us $675 if we had no health care coverage, but the final amount we’re out of pocket is $121, because like the previous medical need we asked for discounts from the doctor’s office and received reimbursement from members.

Samaritan member letters and checks

The only perceivable drawback to this health care alternative is that we had to pay a few bills with our credit card while we waited for reimbursement checks, but this wasn’t a problem for us because it allowed us to earn bonus points with our credit card issuer. Despite this, health care sharing has eliminated fears of expensive medical bills, and it’s proven an empowering experience for us as we feel we have much more control of the decisions and options we make regarding our health care.

With that said, being a member of Samaritan Ministries International or any health care sharing ministry can lead to better doctor-patient relationship. The reason for this is because Samaritan gives us the freedom to see any doctor we choose for medical care. There are no in-network or out-of-network doctors, no HMO or PPO to worry about (and visits to the ER can be covered as well). What I mean is that we have the freedom to shop around for the right doctor. We search the internet and read reviews to find the best care providers for whatever our needs are. Then we call and ask if that care provider will take “self-paying” patients. There is no shame in this, because most health care providers do take self-pay patients happily, while only a handful does not. In our times of medical need, the doctors, labs, imaging services, and hospital we dealt with were appreciative, even thrilled, to work with us. In fact, many offices told us what a headache it is for them to deal with insurance billing. Typically with cash paying customers though, the care provider knows they will get their money faster and with less hassle than when they deal with insurance companies.

In this way, health care sharing puts you in the driver seat of your health, and promotes honest medical billing and reduces overcharging. Because the hospital gives the bill directly to you and not an insurance company, you can see immediately how much they charged and for what. You can ask medical offices to explain anything on the bill you don’t understand, and you can point out any errors. You can also discuss payment plans and ask for discounts. We’ve found that health care providers are willing to discount 50 percent to 60 percent off of what they would have billed customers using regular insurance. It’s not scary; anyone can do this! Some medical offices have told us that if they were to bill the same work to an insurance company, they would have to settle on a smaller amount anyway, so they’re happy to give the same discount knowing it helps a cash pay customer! And because Samaritan Ministries International shares our medical bills with other members of like faith, we never have to worry about our bills being denied by an insurance company for various factors, including plan limits and out-of-network charges. For a list of all that Samaritan covers and exclusions, see the Samaritan Membership guidelines for complete rules available for download here.

I like receiving the bills and working things out with my doctors prior to me mailing copies of bills to Samaritan. Unlike insurance companies who routinely look for reasons to deny claims and leave you to foot some of the bills, if Samaritan determines your medical need can’t be “shared” under their guidelines, they may publish your medical need as a “Special Prayer Need,” asking for benevolent donations from members and prayers for God’s miraculous providence. So whereas you could get stuck paying thousands out of pocket for medical expenses that your insurer may refuse to pay, Samaritan can be your conduit for additional financial blessing without you having to worry or beg for help.

What I’ve described are some of the huge reasons why my family likes Samaritan more than traditional insurance. Samaritan Ministries International actually works as your advocate. We have felt ourselves being lifted up by all the prayers of Samaritan members when we were in need. And as a bonus, you can call your member advocate at Samaritan at any time and ask for prayer one-to-one and for them to share your medical needs with thousands of members for their prayer support. 

By now, if you’ve gotten this far in the article, you may be wondering exactly how Samaritan Ministries works and how members share health needs. Although it’s actually pretty straight forward, health care sharing can be difficult for people to understand, since we are so used to thinking in terms of insurance. Because there are currently about 24,000 member households participating, Samaritan Ministries is financially robust and scalable. If membership drops or increases there are always members available to help share your health care need.

Here’s how the need sharing process works in a nutshell: When a member has a health care “Need” he receives health care treatment from a provider of his choice, collects the bills, and sends those bills to Samaritan Ministries. Samaritan Ministries verifies that the Need meets their guidelines. Then, Samaritan Ministries mails every member/household the monthly health care newsletter with a personalized statement directing members to send their “Shares” (monthly membership payment, which is the same amount each month) to a member with a Need. They include the name, address, and brief description of a member in need who will receive your monthly share. The member with the need receives the shares to pay his health care bills. The entire process is also available online through their secure website. The member monthly share amount never exceeds $370 per month for a family of any size and is even less for singles, couples without children, and single-parent families.

Another equally important fact is that the limit per individual is $250,000, but that’s only per health care need. Thus, if you had two or more needs simultaneously, each need would cap off at $250,000. Likewise, mothers and babies’ needs are treated as separate and each person gets their own limit of $250,000 per need. On the other hand, if like us you participate in the “Save to Share” program for an extra $15 annually, plus a few dollars extra per month, you will be protected for medical expenses that exceed $250,000.

Also, you won’t be denied membership for having preexisting conditions. Health care sharing ministries, like Samaritan Ministries, will still share your medical expenses for any new needs you have while you’re a member. Samaritan Ministries is working on updating their guidelines to include provision for preexisting conditions, but for now the guidelines state if you’ve gone 12 months without treatment, medication, or symptoms of a need, they will treat the condition as a new condition. Similarly, if you’ve gone 3-7 years without treatment, medication, or symptoms of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, they will share your need. This does not include gestational diabetes, which is always a shared need. If you have a preexisting condition, you can ask Samaritan to publish your need as a Special Prayer Need, and many members have been surprised by God’s miraculous financial provision and healing in their lives.

What is the cost for membership with Samaritan Ministries?

One-time new member fee:

$200 (per household)

Monthly Share amount (the amount you’ll send to members for their medical needs):

Regular:

One person $165

Two-person family $315

Three or more person family $370

Widowed or divorced with children $230

Young Adult: (head of household—either husband or wife—age 25 or younger)

One person $125

Two-person family $235

Three or more person family $320

Widowed or divorced with children $180

Costs and Savings

Routine check-ups are not shared, but if seeing the doctor leads to a medical need then that is shared. Medical needs over $300 can be shared. You’re only responsible for the first $300 of any need, similar to a deductible or co-pay. Any discounts your medical provider gives you will be applied first to your $300. Also in a twelve-month period the amount you pay will not exceed $900. For example, a family of three or more can get health care for $370 a month with a $900 annual share amount; a young single parent with a family of any size can get health care for $180 a month with a $900 annual share amount; and an adult couple with no kids can get health care for $315 a month with a $900 annual share amount. However, if you negotiate discounts, you will save the $900 annual share, but if you’re not able to ask for discounts, Samaritan can help you get discounts from your medical care providers.

Compare Samaritan Ministries to any health insurance plan and you’ll immediately realize savings of monthly payments and deductibles! 

In addition, as a member of a recognized health care sharing ministry, like Samaritan Ministries International, you are exempt from the individual mandate to buy health insurance. If you are or become a member of a health care sharing ministry, such as Samaritan Ministries or others like it, before the Obamacare individual mandate deadline, you will not have to buy insurance through one of the government exchanges, nor will you have to pay the individual mandate penalty. Although if you become a member after the individual mandate deadline you will have to pay a penalty for any month you went without being a member or without having health insurance coverage.

How to sign up for Samaritan Ministries and What to Expect

Signing up is easy. Simply download the application here, complete the form, and mail back to Samaritan Ministries. If you sign up please tell them you were referred by SMI Member #41061 (The Cheathams).

I really like the application process for Samaritan. First, with Samaritan, you don’t have to answer a ton of grueling questions about your health, as you do with other health care sharing ministries and health insurers. Second, they don’t ask for family medical history, height, weight, BMI, or Social Security Number. Third, membership is open to non-citizens residing in any country in the world. They are concerned only about ministering to your family, not your nationality or where you live. This makes it a great choice for anyone, and missionaries especially love Samaritan because they can submit doctor bills from anywhere in the world. This is great too if you have a medical need while traveling. Finally, and most importantly, with Samaritan there are no in-network or out-of-network doctors, and no HMO or PPO to worry about. You can choose any doctor you want. All of these factors make the application process as well as any future paperwork with Samaritan a breeze. They are so easy to work with!

My family has been a member of Samaritan Ministries International since before the implementation of Obamacare, and our rates did not increase and we’ve been able to keep the same doctors. Along with that, we have peace knowing that members around the world are benefiting directly from our monthly payments and that the same members will come to our aid when we are in need. And despite how great Samaritan is, we know that “Jesus Christ is the only adequate Provider for every need we have. He is the One Who created everything, and He is the only One Who has enough resources to meet every need. No human organization is large enough to do this—no company and no government. He gives some of His provision through human channels, but He is ultimately the only One we can trust” (Samaritan Ministries International). If all this sounds great to you head over to Samaritan’s website today.

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Originally posted 2013-11-14 12:06:46.

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