US healthcare costs are on an upward trajectory and more people are searching for alternatives to keep their healthcare costs down. That’s where health sharing plans come into play.
Health Sharing is probably a term you’ve come across in your search for healthcare coverage, but do you know exactly what it involves? Taking the time to understand the ins-and-outs of health sharing plans and health insurance alternatives can save you and your family thousands of dollars every year.
As experts in the area, we take an in-depth look at health sharing programs, exploring their benefits and drawbacks, when they are a good option, and the most popular health sharing programs available to you today.
What is a Health Sharing Program?
A health sharing program is an organization that facilitates the sharing of health care expenses between a group of like-minded individuals. While many are non-profit, not all are.
Members send in a monthly payment that is pooled and the program then pays out for any qualifying medical expenses that are incurred. Health Sharing programs are shared with people who have similar beliefs and values. To join it may be necessary to meet certain requirements such as sharing the same religious beliefs.
Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law, healthcare sharing ministries memberships have grown at a rapid rate. Close to one million people were covered under health care sharing ministries in 2018, four times the amount prior to ACA’s introduction. One of the main reasons behind this influx of new joiners is pricing; health sharing programs can be significantly cheaper than regular health insurance.
Families can expect to pay between $300 to $550 each month as a member of a healthcare sharing program, compared to $1,715 which is now the average unsubsidized monthly cost of traditional family health insurance coverage.
That being said, healthcare sharing ministries should not be seen as a discounted insurance program. Part of the reason for their pricing superiority is that their coverage may be more limited.
There are many different health sharing program providers available (over 100 registered Health Care Sharing Ministries across the country), some of the bigger ones include Liberty Healthshare, Altrua, Solidarity Healthcare, Zion Health, Christian Healthcare Ministries, Samaritan Ministries, Medi-Share and One Share Health.
How are Health Sharing plans ACA-Exempt?
Health sharing ministries has been in existence since December 31, 1999. All members who are enrolled are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to have health insurance. Therefore, if you are enrolled in a health sharing plan, you won’t be liable for paying tax penalties for not having qualified health coverage.
ACA Plans vs. Healthcare Sharing Ministries
If you’re considering enrolling in a healthcare sharing ministry plan, it is important to understand their differences from ACA plans. Some scenarios in which healthcare sharing ministries are a good option over ACA plans include:
- You’re young and lead a healthy lifestyle – complex medical conditions generally aren’t accepted.
- ACA plans are expensive in your area compared to other states.
- You are open to sharing costs with like-minded individuals.
- Prescription drugs aren’t a key requirement – most healthcare sharing ministries don’t include comprehensive prescription drug plans.
- You want to have a choice of doctor – most healthcare sharing ministries allow you to see any specialist that accepts the coverage.
- You earn too much to qualify for ACA plans subsidies – 400 percent above Financial Poverty Level.
Benefits of Health Sharing & ACA Plans
ACA Plans benefits
- Coverage is available regardless of your health condition.
- No lifetime limits or caps.
- Subsidies for those earning less than 400 percent of the Financial Poverty Level.
- It is possible to pair your plan with a Health Savings Account for tax savings.
Healthcare Sharing Ministries benefits
- Less Expensive and cheaper deductibles.
- Share the costs with other like-minded families.
- Exempt from the ACA penalty for not having health insurance.
Drawbacks of Health Sharing & ACA Plans
ACA Plans drawbacks
- Plans can be expensive.
- Plans may run on narrow doctor networks.
- Available plans depend on your state of residence.
Healthcare Sharing Ministries drawbacks
- Caps on coverage.
- Not possible to pair your plan with a Health Savings Account for tax savings.
- Good health is necessary to qualify.
Faith-Based Medical Sharing – Another Alternative
Faith-based medical sharing plans require members to adhere to certain biblical values and religious beliefs. To become a member, faith-based medical sharing programs may even require proof of regular church attendance, but each provider has a different policy.
Faith-based medical sharing plans don’t function as insurance policies but instead share the cost of medical expenses amongst a large group of people with the same religious beliefs. When a member needs medical treatment, the pooled money is used to cover expenses.
Because they are faith-based, certain program providers decline memberships for lifestyles such as smoking and might encourage participants to partake in prayers or give words of encouragement to sick members.
While faith-based medical sharing programs do cover standard medical expenses, certain providers do not cover healthcare expenses which they deem to be ‘unbiblical’. This could include anything from birth control and abortions to subsequent injuries from alcohol, drugs, or hazardous activities.
Popular Health Sharing Programs
We’ve listed seven of the most popular health sharing programs. It’s difficult to recognize one single healthcare sharing program as the best because each has qualities that can be better suited to an individual’s personal needs.
Liberty HealthShare is a well-recognized healthshare provider available in all 50 states and doesn’t require non-evangelical faith to participate. Monthly contributions range from around $100 to $500 which is then distributed by Liberty. Dental and vision expenses are not included and it has been reported that it can take a long time to be reimbursed for medical expenses.
Altrua Healthshare is one of the newest health sharing ministries available. No pastor or representative from your church is needed to join. Plans cover counseling services and dental, vision and hearing discounts.
Solidarity Healthshare is a new Catholic healthcare sharing ministry. To qualify, members must comply with specific lifestyle requirements put forward by the program. Claims are easy to make but wait times can be long.
Zion Health is a healthshare program with no religious requirements. The program offers extremely affordable plans but the main drawback of Zion is no access to a portal for members to sign into – a common tool that other healthshare programs offer.
Christian Healthcare Ministries
Christian Healthcare Ministries is one of the oldest health sharing ministries that’s open to non-evangelical faiths and is available in all 50 states. The program is accepted by a wide network of doctors but only offers assistance up to $125,000. No help is given in negotiating bills and discounts with medical providers, either.
Samaritan Ministries is the choice for over 75,000 families. Members can use a wide network of healthcare providers and the program is available in all 50 states. In this program, members pay for lesser situations and Samaritan Ministries is used for bigger, more costly issues. To enroll you must practice an evangelical faith and it’s important to note that they do not handle negotiating medical bills with providers.
Medi-Share is one of the most popular health sharing ministries and is also one of the most affordable, with some members receiving rates for as low as $30/month. Medi-Share also helps to negotiate bills for members. Drawbacks include a strict evangelical Christian policy and not every state has coverage.
Formerly Kingdom Healthshare, OneShare Health is a healthcare sharing ministry with affordable plans. Members must agree to a statement of beliefs and those who lead a healthy lifestyle, avoiding harmful behaviors (such as smoking) are covered.
Can I Enroll in a Health Sharing Plan Outside Open Enrollment
Yes! Health sharing plans do not have an open enrollment period and there are no deadlines to enroll in a program. After completing the application process for your chosen health sharing program, you can expect a waiting period of around one to three months before your membership begins. For more information regarding the health sharing plans listed above, call 1-855-881-0430 to speak with one of our healthcare advisors.