A common complaint about the Affordable Care Act is that it’s not so affordable after all – the cost of insurance is too high for many households, especially those with only one financial provider. However, the ACA also forces a hefty tax penalty on those who choose to forgo health insurance, leading many Americans to find themselves with an inescapable dilemma on their hands.

This leads many to consider health care sharing ministries as a possible option. An alternative to traditional health care insurance, they have existed for many years, and they are gaining ever more traction in face of mounting insurance costs. These charitable non-profit organizations operate similarly to health insurance companies: members pay monthly deposit fees which are pooled together, and when one member incurs significant health care related costs, funds are withdrawn from this collective pool to cover said costs.

However, health care sharing ministries technically don’t provide insurance per se. Members choose their own medical providers and pay their own medical expenses while ministries provide financial assistance. Ministries usually cover only large medical expenses.

The monthly fees are typically significantly lower than those of most insurances, making health sharing an attractive option for financially struggling families. However, there are some crucial factors you must take into consideration before opting against standard insurance:

Health care sharing ministries are based on religion.

Health care sharing is also known as “faith-based medical cost sharing” because these organizations are usually rooted in religious beliefs, typically the biblical principle of sharing each other’s needs. Therefore, most of the major health care sharing ministries in the United States require all members to exhibit Christian beliefs, a severe limiting factor for people of other religious persuasions, atheists, and agnostics.

Health care sharing ministries offer no guarantees.

Unlike insurance providers, they are not bound to the standard regulations. Therefore, they are not required to provide any guarantee of coverage. In addition, there is nothing to protect members from financial loss if the ministry were to go bankrupt.

Health care ministries have very strict rules.

Because they are based on religion, health care ministries will typically not accept behaviors like the usage of any drugs (including tobacco and alcohol), extramarital sex, or the usage of contraceptives. Members engaging in such behaviors may be expelled if the facts come to light. This can be attractive to believers who do not wish for their financial contributions to support immoral behavior, but far from everybody can fulfill these staunch requirements.

Preventative care is not covered.

In order to encourage members to lead healthy lives, most health care ministries will not cover preventative health care measures, such as disease screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies.

Only four ministries are exempt from the Obamacare tax penalties.

These four ministries are Samaritan Ministries, Christian Healthcare Ministries, Medi-Share and Liberty HealthShare. All of these ministries have been in operation since 1999. Although other health care sharing ministries exist, their members still need to pay the ACA tax penalties, though some may offer to pay those for their members.

Health care sharing ministries are used by hundreds of thousands of Americans for their low costs. Still, their requirements and limitations make them rather restrictive. If health care sharing is not for you, head to HealthQuoteInfo to find affordable health insurance for your family’s needs.