What Do You Know About Christian Healthcare Ministries as a Solution to the Health Insurance Problem? (January 2015 Update)
Many of you know that ACA cancelled my family’s private insurance. New Obamacare insurance would cost us several hundred dollars more a month, increasing our premiums by 150%. It would also dramatically increase our deductible by 150%, but paying the massive premium increase would mean we had no money in the budget left over to pay actual medical bills. To afford healthcare insurance we would have to not afford healthcare. We have been a little desperate.
We’ve prayed and researched. We think we’ve found a solution. We’re joining a Christian healthcare ministry (also known as a healthcare sharing group). Specifically we’re joining the Christian Healthcare Ministries.
I know many families are looking pretty hard at their healthcare situation right now. This post is about what I think is a decent option for Mormons and others. I hope it helps anyone who is looking for an out from a bad insurance situation. Please share it with anyone who might benefit.
At the same time, this post is a request for anybody who knows anything about Christian healthcare ministries to share what they know. If you have had a good or a bad experience with a healthcare ministry or sharing organization, please tell us about it in the comments. I and others who read this would benefit. The more information the better.
What is a healthcare ministry?
Here’s what I’ve figured out from my research.
There is an extended family I know. They run several interlocking small businesses. They don’t have health insurance. Routine medical costs they pay themselves. When one of them has a larger medical bill, they chip in to cover it.
Imagine that you and your extended family or a group of close friends and neighbors were doing something similar. None of you have insurance but you cover for each other. When one family has a high medical bill, every family helps out. Maybe this goes on long enough that all of you actually hash out an agreement that whenever there’s a big bill, each of you will pay an equal percentage of it. Most months you don’t pay anything. Some months you pay a lot. You probably can’t sue the others to pay for your own healthcare, because they aren’t legally obligated to do it. It’s just a private arrangement. But you trust each other and you have a track record with each other, so you’re OK with not having a formal, legal obligation.
Now, imagine that your circle of friends and family and neighbors gets bigger. This means that your share of each medical bill gets smaller, so you’re paying less. But the frequency you’re having to pay goes up. Eventually, as the circle gets large enough, you’re paying about the same amount each month.
As the circle gets bigger, you also start to worry about who the new members are. You may not know them all. Since the circle runs on trust, you get worried. You and the rest get together to discuss what to do. You don’t want to downsize, because you like the security that having a larger circle gets you. At the same time, you don’t want to convert into an actual insurance company. Instead, you come up with admissions requirements that the group of you feel will keep your circle a circle of trust.
You also, since your circle has got bigger, agree on some formal rules about what medical bills you’ll share payment on and which ones you won’t.
Once you’ve done all that, congratulations, you’ve invented a healthcare ministry or sharing organization. They are a large group of families and individuals with some basis for mutual trust (usually a common religious commitment) who pay an agreed amount each month. According to their agreement, they either send the money to a clearing house or directly to another member with medical bills. The medical bills are shared according the rules that are established by agreement. The membership will usually be informed if any member has big bills that are outside the rules and will have an opportunity to chip in an extra donation to help out. Each family is responsible for making its own arrangements for medical care and for acting responsibly in trying to reduce their own medical bills. There is no legal obligation to pay bills, even if the bills are within the group’s rules. But in practice the bills are always paid. The members can vote to change their rules and to raise or lower the monthly payment. They aren’t regulated, for the most part, and it may concern you that from state to state their legal status may be somewhat irregular, though they’ve been around for decades without being shut down, and in practice have considerable political clout. For those reasons, my own view is that their legal status is a non-issue.
Under Obamacare, membership in a healthcare ministry also exempts you from the insurance mandate and the fines.
Sounds Great! Can We Start Our Own Mormon Healthcare Sharing Group?
No. Obamacare doesn’t let you start new groups. Only groups that have been around since around 2000 qualify.
Frickin’ Fetch. So What Groups Already Exist that We Could Join?
There are many healthcare ministries, but most of them are limited to a town or a region or to a specific religious denomination. In practice there are three main Christian healthcare ministries that are nationwide and non-denominational. They are Samaritan Ministries, Christian Healthcare Ministries, and Christian Care Ministry. I have recently discovered a fourth organization that is less overtly Christian, although its not quite secular either, called Liberty Healthshare.
Each of these ministries require a statement of belief to join. I have been told that Samaritan Ministries isn’t open to Mormons, though I haven’t confirmed that information.
The members of Christian Care Ministry affirm a statement of faith:
We believe…that there is one God eternally existing in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
We believe…that the Bible is God’s written revelation to man and that it is verbally inspired, authoritative, and without error.
We believe…in the deity of Jesus Christ—His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles, death on the cross to provide for our redemption, bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven, present ministry of intercession for us, and His return to earth in power and glory.
We believe…in the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, that He performs the miracle of new birth in an unbeliever and indwells believers, enabling them to live a godly life.
We believe…that man was created in the image of God, but because of sin was alienated from God. Alienation can be removed by accepting God’s gift of salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-10) which was made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection. This faith will be evidenced by the works that we do (James 2:17).
I could probably affirm that statement (I’d have to think a bit about the Bible not having any errors at all), but most Mormons might not. Based on the statement of faith, though, my unconfirmed suspicion is that the Christian Care Ministry doesn’t allow Mormons. I wouldn’t join one of these organizations without getting confirmation that they allow Mormons. It’s unethical and it’s too risky to join under false pretenses.
Christian Healthcare Ministries does allow Mormons (I called and asked). As a member, you affirm that you are
Christians living by New Testament principles, attend group worship regularly (health permitting), follow scriptural teaching with regard to alcohol, and do not use tobacco or use drugs illegally.
I believe you may also have to have your “pastor” sign off on the occasional form, much like BYU’s ecclesiastical leader endorsement.
Liberty Healthshare an even looser but still robust statement of belief:
- We believe that our personal rights and liberties originate from God and are bestowed on us by God, and are not concessions granted to us by governments or men.
- We believe every individual has a fundamental religious right to worship the God of the Bible in his or her own way.
- We believe it is our biblical and ethical obligation to assist our fellow man when they are in need according to our available resources and opportunity.
- We believe it is our spiritual duty to God and our ethical duty to others to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid foods, behaviors or habits that produce sickness or disease.
- We believe it is our fundamental right of conscience to direct our own healthcare, in consultation with physicians, family or other valued advisors, free from government dictates, restraints and oversight.
Each of the organizations offers fairly different rules for what medical costs they share, and how they share it. There is probably no substitute for reading the rules of each organization you are considering.
You shouldn’t join unless you are comfortable negotiating bills with doctors and managing your own healthcare. It will take time and cause you frustration. But these sharing ministries rely on their members to do that work (some tips here). You should also feel comfortable with the statement of beliefs. Finally, you should be willing to accept a moral and ethical obligation to the other members. If you are inclined to treat the ministry rules as an arms-length contract within which you should try to extract the maximum personal benefit, these ministries aren’t for you.
I said earlier that each organization has fairly different rules. However, the two Mormon-friendly ministries have fairly similar approaches, so I’ll summarized them here (note: this summary is no substitute for actually reading their rules).
For the most part, both Liberty Healthshare and Christian Healthcare Ministries don’t cover routine healthcare, including many prescriptions. They generally cover the kinds of non-elective procedures that require hospitalization. They both have deductibles “per incident” instead of “per year.” Christian Healthcare Ministries offers three levels of deductibles: as you would expect, the higher the deductible, the less you are asked to contribute to the general fund. At the highest contribution level, your deductible (aka “personal responsibility amount”) is $500. Liberty Healthshare’s per-incident deductible is $500 for all levels of contribution, but at the lower levels of contribution there is a cost-sharing mechanism past the $500 level. Both have per-incident caps at around $125,000. You can increase that cap to around $1 million in Christian Healthcare Ministries by chipping in a little more, and in Liberty Healthshare by picking their highest contribution level. In either case, if you can afford it you probably should, since $125,000 could be a little low if you develop a major condition like cancer. Christian Healthcare Ministries covers maternity at its highest contribution level; its a good deal for families. Liberty Healthshare is a little bit cheaper, Christian Healthcare Ministries’ coverage is a little bit more extensive. Christian Healthcare Ministries has a larger pool of members.
Their complete rules aren’t much more complicated than what I’ve laid out here, but you should definitely examine them in detail and in full if you are interested. Both ministries have help lines where someone who is friendly and informed will answer right away.
Can I Really Join a Christian Group? I Don’t Listen to Bad Pop Music about Jesus.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the religious aspects of these plans. No believing Mormon should object to affirming the principles of the New Testament, in the case of Christian Healthcare Ministries, or in affirming the principles of religious liberty and personal health responsibility in the case of Liberty Healthshare.
I do not believe Mormons should have any issue with entering into a brotherhood, a body of Christian believers, with non-Mormons. Rather than having an issue, we should be excited at the chance. All of God’s children are the objects of his care, and therefore of ours. God’s restoration of the full gospel and priesthood authority to the Mormon church does not mean that Christians in other denominations are not genuine Christians. In their own way, they are part of the body of Christ and can be treated as such. Doctrinally, both the notion of vicarious work for the dead, the doctrine of the terrestrial kingdom, and the doctrine of the diversity of works, point to this conclusion. We also know from personal experience that their faith in Christ is real and their works worthy of that faith. Finally, no Mormon should feel that they can honestly join one of these programs with the purpose of taking advantage of it. Both the 12th Article of Faith and our prophets and apostles over the pulpit teach us to respect mortal institutions.
[Update, December 13th, 2013: I discovered a new provider that takes Mormons, Altrua Healthshare. However, it isn’t clear yet whether they let you get out of the Obamacare fine.]
[Update, December 30th, 2013: Commenter JMarie has contacted Samaritan and been told that they WILL accept Mormons who can adhere to their statement of faith, which is basically the Apostles’ Creed. Most Mormons should be able to adhere to it in good conscience:
I believe in the triune God of the Bible. He is one God Who is revealed in three distinct Persons—God, the Father; God, the Son; and God the Holy Spirit. 1 I believe Jesus Christ was God in the flesh—fully God and fully man. 2 He was born of a virgin, 3 lived a sinless life, 4 died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, 5 was bodily resurrected on the third day, 6 and now is seated in the heavens at the right hand of God, the Father. 7 I believe that all people are born with a sinful nature 8 and can be saved from eternal death only by trusting in Christ’s
atoning death and resurrection to save us from our sins and give us eternal life.9
Samaritan is cheaper than the other options I’ve explored (and they have very good maternity coverage!), but they also sometimes don’t take in enough to cover all bills and have to prorate payment or else ask members for voluntary donations to cover. On the balance we might still go with them except that they totally exclude pre-existing conditions.]
[Update, January 15, 2015: The Self-Pay Patient blog reports that Altrua Healthshare has been certified as satisfying the Obamacare mandate. If you have a membership with them, in other words, you won’t have to pay the Obamacare fine. Their contribution rates and coverage look to be pretty reasonable. ]