Updated: Jan 9, 2019
A health care sharing ministry (HCSM) is an organization that facilitates sharing of health care costs among individual members, in the United States, who have common ethical or religious beliefs. A health care sharing ministry does not use actuaries, does not accept risk or make guarantees, and does not purchase reinsurance policies on behalf of its members. HCSMs are alternatives to regular health insurance and have grown nearly 1 million people in the last decade, according to a recent study by attorney Christina Lechner Geo.
The three largest HCSMs, accounting for 85 percent of all people participating in health care sharing ministries, are as follows:
Why are they gaining popularity?
The main reason for the rise in popularity of HCSMs, in particular, is due to the increasing costs of insurance on the marketplace for individuals. In addition, members of HCSMs do not want or nor believe in all the required comprehensive set of benefits included in traditional plans. Benefits such as contraception and coverage for abortions violate their religious objections.
Pros and Cons
The plans offered by each company generally cost substantially less than traditional health insurance, sometimes as much as 50 percent less than health insurance available on the marketplace. The example comparison chart illustrates two ministries share options.
Aside from cost savings, another primary benefit is that these plans do not pay for coverages that violate member religious objectives, mentioned above. How closely the plans adhere to Catholic principals may vary in their approach though.
HCSMs are not insurance and are not protected by the same rules and regulations as traditional insurance plans.
HCSMs may have limits on pre-existing conditions and typically have a long list of medical services excluded, including prescription drugs for chronic conditions and most dental and vision care, according to consumerreports.org.
Negotiation power is greater with traditional insurance carriers who use their large pool of participants to bargain "discounts". HCSMs negotiate savings as well; however their relatively small number of participants in such plans are limited. As a result Out-of-Pocket costs could be much greater for HCSM plans.
Enrollment in these plans may be limited to religious belief, unlike traditional health insurance plans.
Is an HCSM Right for you?
Health Care Sharing Ministries may be a sensible alternative for those of a Christian faith and agree to the terms and conditions of plan participation. They can benefit members with lower medical premiums and help manage financial risks for enrollment members. These are clear benefits that are advantageous for some people. For others, they may be inappropriate and not adhere to their moral or religious beliefs. Medical conditions and need for pre-existing coverage may also prove to be a negative toward electing into such a plan.
We each have to make our own informed decision. Figuring things out for yourself is the only freedom anyone really has. Use that freedom. Make up your own mind. Sit down and take a long hard look at your medical history and lifestyle before making a switch. The cost savings off the premium may be worth it for the change, but be sure not to set yourself up for financial risk in so doing.