Finding ways to cover medical costs for any family can be a difficult choice. One has to juggle finances, provider networks, and, oftentimes, faith. Fortunately, there are options available for Christians who want to pay their medical bills in a faith-positive manner, such as through Christian healthcare cost-sharing networks.
What Is a Christian Healthcare Cost-Sharing Network?
Christian healthcare sharing plans are what the name implies: a network of Christians that share each other’s medical expenses. As such, they are not insurance plans, but instead are an exemption offered under the Affordable Care Act, or ACA (also called Obamacare).
How Does a Christian Healthcare Cost-Sharing Network Differ from a Traditional Insurance Plan?
When a member of a sharing plan has a qualifying need, he or she sends the bills to the central office. If the physical illness is an approved expense, the other members are instructed to send their monthly share to that individual member. Once the money has been received, the affected member pays the bill. Minor details may be shared about the specific event, such as if they were in a car accident or were recently hospitalized. This is done so the members can specifically pray for the affected individual.
Traditional insurance plans often utilize PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) and HMO (Health Managed Organization) networks. This is where a group of doctors, hospitals, and physicians join various networks and provide coverage to patients who have an in-network insurance plan. A patient may pay expenses at the office immediately or after the event; sometimes extra payment is required if further billing occurs. No information is shared amongst members, as patient information is protected as private medical information under federal law.
Qualifications and Coverage
Traditional health insurance has dedicated open-enrollment times, such as November through December every year, or certain qualifying events that have to be met before one can apply for insurance. Acceptance for pre-existing conditions is guaranteed if the plan is ACA approved. Birth control, sterilization, and psychiatric conditions are typically accepted through these traditional health insurance plans.
Christian healthcare cost-sharing plans, by contrast, may not cover a range of treatments, surgeries, or medications on the basis of religious belief. For example, some pre-existing health conditions may not be covered with these Christian medical cost-sharing plans. Sometimes this is just for a set period of time or it may be an exclusive decision; again, this will vary based on the chosen network and plan. These conditions can include cancer, high blood pressure, pregnancy, and diabetes. Also, not all procedures and medications are covered through Christian cost-sharing networks. Some of these would include birth control pills, abortions, Plan-B medications, voluntary sterilization, psychiatric treatment and medications, and bariatric procedures.
To join a Christian healthcare program, interested individuals typically must sign a creed stating that they agree with the program’s biblical statement of faith and beliefs. They also usually must consent to certain stipulations, such as avoiding tobacco products, refusing heavy alcohol intake, and attending regular worship services. Some plans also require a pastoral approval letter of recommendation. Each cost-sharing network should specify its qualifications on its official site, or provide a way for interested individuals to receive further information.
In addition to a monthly fee for traditional health insurance, there can be set rates to see a physician; these rates are called co-payments. There also can be co-insurance percentages (for example, a patient might be accountable to pay 20-30% of the fee). There are also deductibles (large dollar amounts) that have to be met before the insurance will pay for medical expenses. Monthly payments are based upon the size of the plan and the deductible amount. Some health insurance plans have incredibly high deductibles, such as $10,000 dollars, before they begin to pay any benefits.
The cost for Christian healthcare network plans, sometimes called a monthly share, might be cheaper than traditional insurance monthly costs, but it works differently. Typically, a deductible for health insurance looks at an entire year’s worth of expenses. A network sharing plan, however, might look at individual occurrences before cost-sharing begins. A broken leg, an urgent care visit for a sore throat, and a yearly physical could count as three different occurrences. For certain plans, sometimes occurrences need to meet a financial threshold before costs would be shared.
There are many available Christian healthcare cost-sharing networks. Each network will vary in what costs can be shared, requirements, and other parameters. Always double-check that a plan is completely legal, being either ACA-approved or qualifying for an ACA exemption. There might be extra steps that interested individuals have to take to legally prove they qualify for this exemption; instructions on how to do so are usually listed on healthcare cost-sharing sites. Some popular non-insurance, cost-sharing networks include:
Christian Healthcare Ministries, also known as Medical Cost Sharing, has four different plan options for individual or family needs based upon budget. A family of four, for example, could expect to pay between $527 – $784 a month with a $200,000 maximum sharing benefit.
Medi-Share, Christian Care Ministry, has multiple options to choose from, based upon the annual household portion (similar to a deductible). Prices for a family can range from $227 – $898. Eligible members may receive reduced rates.
Samaritan Ministries has two different tiers of plans to choose from and charges $160 – $495, depending on the size of a family, for a monthly dividend. Maternity care has maximum limits, as do other sharable needs.