The cost of medical insurance is one of the most significant financial challenges facing many families today, especially those who are independent business owners or freelancers. Health Care Sharing Ministries are an alternative to traditional health insurance, and may be a good option for some people. While Health Care Sharing Ministries have been in existence for more than 20 years, many people know little or nothing about this alternative to traditional medical insurance.
What is a Health Care Sharing Ministry?
A Health Care Sharing Ministry is an organization whose members share common ethical, moral, or religious beliefs and agree to share medical expenses in accordance with those shared beliefs. While health care sharing is a viable option for some people to keep their medical expenses down, it's not the same as traditional insurance, and you should learn some key facts about Health Care Sharing Ministries in order to make the best decision for you.
Health Care Sharing Ministries Are Not Medical Insurance
Health Care Sharing Ministries are voluntary organizations of members, typically based on Christian values of helping those in need. Sharing of medical expenses is voluntary, and unlike traditional health insurance, which is a legally binding contract between an insurance provider and a covered beneficiary, Health Care Sharing Ministries provide no legally binding guarantees of payment or coverage.
Health Care Sharing Ministries are not subject to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Therefore, they are not required to cover the mandated conditions specified in the ACA, and they are permitted to deny coverage of preexisting medical conditions. In addition, they may have annual and lifetime coverage limits, which is not the case for ACA-approved insurance, and unlike health insurance companies, a Health Care Sharing Ministry is not required to have a specific financial reserve.
Health Care Sharing Ministries Require Agreement With A Statement Of Beliefs
One key difference in Health Care Sharing Ministries and traditional health insurance is the requirement to affirm a statement of shared beliefs. The specific statement of beliefs varies, with some being very distinctly based on specific Christian denominational beliefs, and others more generally based on moral beliefs and behaviors. However, this requirement to affirm these shared beliefs and agree to certain moral standards is a prime distinction and is essential to know and understand before deciding on a Health Care Sharing Ministry over traditional medical insurance.
Health Care Sharing Ministries Have Their Own Risks
While traditional health insurance companies cannot discriminate based on behaviors or preexisting medical conditions, Health Care Sharing Ministries can and often do so. This is a fundamental difference in Health Care Sharing and health insurance; the ability to require adherence to certain standards is one way Health Care Sharing Ministries are able to control their costs - by eliminating the requirement to cover medical costs for those who engage in certain high-risk, high-cost behaviors.
Typically, Health Care Sharing Ministries prohibit or limit behaviors such as the use of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, extramarital sex, and other similar behaviors. When signing up with a Health Care Sharing Ministry, you're accepting the requirement for you and for any covered family members to adhere to the moral and behavioral standards of the ministry. While this moral component is part of the fundamental shared beliefs and helps to keep costs low, it also increases the risk that a member may not have certain conditions or injuries covered. For example, if a member is drinking and is injured in a car accident, treatment for those injuries may not be paid for, due to the involvement with alcohol. Or a member or one of their family members may have a pregnancy out of wedlock, which might not be covered based on the fact that the individual had sexual relations outside of marriage.
While Health Care Sharing Ministries are appealing to many who have strong moral beliefs and wish to control their health care costs, it's important to understand both the risks and advantages of health care sharing as compared with traditional health insurance.