Most Health Sharing Ministries have been around for a few decades and there are only six that we know of in the U.S. They must have existed and been in practice continually since December 31, 1999.
The interesting attribute of these ministries is that they only seem to attract those people who are healthier than the general population because of their religious or moral and ethical beliefs. This is one of the reasons that rates are so much lower than most insurance companies and also because their rules are somewhat more restrictive on what is covered. These ministries actually hold their people accountable for living healthy lifestyles, unlike regular health insurance companies. They also tend to educate their members about nutrition and exercise and the importance of staying healthy. When there is no accountability cost will go up, however; when there is accountability we see costs stabilize and even go down.
Health care sharing ministries are founded on the biblical principle of believers sharing each other’s needs. A majority of states have enacted safe harbor laws specifying that the ministries are not insurance and do not need to be regulated as such. Because Health sharing ministries were exempt from Obamacare’s onerous rules they continued to grow significantly for the past six years. With the current turmoil being created by the repeal of Obamacare the Health share ministries are seeing another surge in new applications and it is estimated that they now cover well over half a million Americans. While some of these ministries require more stringent religious requirements be met some are very general in their statement of standards. Altura Healthshare, for example, is very basic. You need to agree to live a clean and healthy lifestyle and share the following ethical or religious beliefs:
*A belief in caring for one another: *Keeping your body clean and healthy with proper nutrition: *A belief that the use of tobacco, illicit drugs, and excessive alcohol consumption is harmful to body and soul: *A belief that sexual relations outside of marriage is morally wrong and that marriage is a bond between a man and a women: *Abortion is wrong, except for life-threating situations to the mother: *and a belief that you are obligated to care for your family and physical, mental or emotional abuse of any kind to a family member or anyone else is morally wrong. To maintain an active membership members must submit an annual commitment form to demonstrate their acknowledgment to the standards of commitments.
Although all the above are Christian beliefs they are not by any means onerous standards to meet as some of the other health sharing ministries impose on members. Some may require a letter from your pastor or proof that you are a church member and attend regularly. The payments are not deductible on your taxes and you cannot use Health Sharing Accounts to pay for the donations to the ministries. The costs are so much lower than regular insurance that you would still have substantial annual savings. It is important to read all of the rules of the ministry you intend to join as there are many rules that you will not find in regular insurance policies such as extreme sports or activities perceived to have high levels of danger such as skydiving or motocross. There are a host of other items not covered but each ministry is different and has different rules.
There are not a lot of extras that are available with these ministries but some like Altrua do offer specialty coverage like a Healthy Living Plan with discount options for dental, vision, hearing, prescription medicine as well as telemedicine for a small additional cost. With the new health care bill winding its way through congress we don’t know what the final bill will look like but the hope is that premiums and deductibles will come down, however; there is no guarantee. The Health Sharing Ministries have been signing up new members at a very rapid pace because of the lack of clarity for the future of the healthcare insurance industry. Depending on the details of the current healthcare bill’s finished version we could see a continued huge surge in signups for these health sharing ministries.
When you look at the distinction between insurance companies and the ministries there are some very straightforward differences.
- Health care sharing ministries don’t spend as much on advertising and administration. Advertising budgets for insurance companies run into the billions and executive pay is in the tens of millions.
- Health Care Sharing Ministries are more affordable – According to a US News and World Report article, if a family is spending $700 a month on insurance, they may only spend $200 for medical cost sharing from a health sharing ministry because of lower administration expenses and because some medical procedures are not eligible for sharing (usually those that may be morally offensive). In many cases, you will find health sharing ministries costs are about one-half those of regular insurance.
- Some ministries have individuals make contributions to those members with medical bill obligations but with the Altrua ministry the money is Held in Escrow and paid out of that account directly to the provider rather than the member.
- More medical providers are accepting health sharing ministries than ever before.
So if you and your family are in good health and live by the rules set forth in the set of standards don’t smoke, use drugs, or consume large amounts of alcohol it might just be worth your while to look into one of these healthcare sharing ministries until this insurance bill is set in stone.