Are you an American citizen without employer-sponsored health insurance who is also a professing Christian? Did you know there is an “Obamacare” compliant option for coverage with low monthly premiums and doesn't require you to purchase an insurance plan through the Marketplace? This option might not be the best for every family, but I think every Christian should at least look into it.
How I Discovered Christian Health Sharing Plans
When I left my corporate job in 2015, one of the first things we needed to do was find a new insurance plan as we became self-employed. We knew of two options at the time, purchasing a plan through the federal “Marketplace” or “Exchange” (whatever term you prefer to call it) or a private plan directly from the insurance agency like Blue Cross Blue Shield or United Healthcare.
Both of these options were pretty expensive for the coverage received. We didn't qualify for the tax credit from the Exchange plans because of my income, plus the choice of doctors was very slim for our area. Rarely do we need to visit the doctor, but if so, we didn't want to go to the Health Department as our family physician didn't accept this type of insurance. Plus the only option less than a $400 monthly premium carried a $10,000 deductible. The private insurance plans weren't much better for the price & deductibles, although we could have had our choice of doctors.
So we settled on a short-term insurance plan that was about $150 a month for a family of three. The only catch is that it's doesn't meet the standards for “Minimum Essential Coverage” which means I need to pay a penalty to the IRS for not having coverage for the last four months of tax year 2015. The penalty ($302) will still be cheaper than having purchased adequate coverage, so we still saved money compared to traditional insurance.
Had I known about Christian Health Sharing Plans when I left my job, I would have signed up right away. It wasn't until open enrollment for 2016 after talking with a family friend, that we discovered the perks of Christian health sharing plans! So we researched the options and discovered that we could insure our family for significantly less than the cost of a private policy. In 2016, a private policy was going to cost $500+ a month for a “Bronze” tier plan.
Needless to say we signed up for one of these plans. Thankfully we have not needed to use it yet, so I cannot attest to the quality of service, there are positive reviews from people on these plans.
What Are Christian Health Sharing Plans?
These plans technically are not insurance. That might seem ironic, how a non-insurance plan qualifies as an exemption from the federal insurance mandate. Instead, participants in these plans belong to a health-sharing ministry. The basis for this concept is rooted in the book of Acts (chapter 2 & 4) and Galatians 6:2, when members of the early Christian church would help their brother's in time of need. Even if it meant selling their own possessions to help somebody else! Talk about unselfishness.
They work very similar to traditional medical insurance companies but with lower operating costs. With any organization there are administrative costs, but the health-sharing ministries are more cost-efficient because the members share each other's bills. Members send in monthly shares (premiums) that are distributed to those with medical bills.
The health-sharing plans also differ from traditional insurance when you visit the doctor. To maximize cost-savings when a remember receives medical care, they are administered as a “self-pay” patient and the member then sends the bills to the ministry (instead of the health care provider directly billing the insurance company). This means it is the responsibility of the member to seek the most cost-effective treatment and only choose services that are necessary. Some medical offices also charge a reduced rate to self-pay patients. Obviously, if you have an emergency situation, get immediate care to address the situation. The financial matters can be addressed later.
Because of these differences in bill sharing and seeking medical attention, the costs can be significantly lower than other insurance options.
Who Qualifies For Membership?
There are a couple conditions that you must meet to qualify for membership in the various plans. There might be subtly differences among the four different ministries, but each member must meet ALL of the following:
- Not use any form of tobacco
- Not use illegal drugs
- Only use alcohol and prescription medication in moderation
- Regularly attend Christian worship services, health permitting
- Pursue a healthy lifestyle with exercise & nutritional food
Remember that your body is “temple” and it is our earthly duty to glorify & show thankfulness to our Maker by trying to live clean & responsible lifestyles.
If you have any questions regarding membership qualifications, you can ask the prospective ministry you are interested in.
How Are These Plans ACA Exempt?
One lingering question I had was how these various plans were exempt from ACA penalty? After all, I thought only the Amish were exempt from the insurance mandate due to their disbelief of insurance.
After much research on the various companies (and the federal government websites), I reached the conclusion this was a legitimate option!
As the IRS requires each household to verify adequate healthcare coverage, you will need to submit IRS Form 8965 ‘Health Coverage Exemptions' with your annual tax return to not get slapped with a penalty. Some tax prep software will help you fill out this form when you file your taxes!
I have copied an excerpt below from Christian Healthcare Ministries that explains how the various health-sharing ministries are ACA exempt.
Christian Healthcare Ministries:
- doesn’t reject new members if they have a health condition
- doesn’t increase rates on members who suffer a costly illness
- doesn’t “cancel” anyone’s membership because of a costly health condition
- doesn’t set rates based on a member’s age, health status, or geographic location
- has programs to help members with costs for pre-existing conditions
- has a catastrophic illness cost sharing program (Brother’s Keeper) that assists members with health care costs over $125,000
- meets each of the qualifications set forth for health cost sharing ministries in the U.S. health care legislation (see excerpt below)
Excerpt from H.R. 3590: U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [26 U.S.C. §5000A(d)(2)(B)(ii); p. 128]:
(2) Religious exemptions
(B) Health care sharing ministry.
(i) In general: Such term [note: “term” refers to “penalty”] shall not include any individual for any month if such individual is a member of a health care sharing ministry for the month.
(ii) Health care sharing ministry: The term “health care sharing ministry” means an organization:
(I) which is described in section 501(c)(3) and is exempt from taxation under section 501(a),
(II) members of which share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs and share medical expenses among members in accordance with those beliefs and without regard to the State in which a member resides or is employed,
(III) members of which retain membership even after they develop a medical condition,
(IV) which (or a predecessor of which) has been in existence at all times since December 31, 1999, and medical expenses of its members have been shared continuously and without interruption since at least December 31, 1999, and
(V) which conducts an annual audit which is performed by an independent certified public accounting firm in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and which is made available to the public upon request.
Does that give you peace of mind now?
Who Are The Different Health Sharing Ministries?
There are four different ministries to choose from. Each one has different plans that might fit your needs differently. I am ranking them in alphabetical order, not in order of my personal preference.
CHM appears to be the cheapest option between the four ministries. They do not charge an application fee or annual fee. They have three different coverage options (Bronze, Silver, and Gold) of increasing quality of coverage and costs.
CHM bases their monthly premium and the number of units in your family. A single person is one unit, a married couple is two units, and a married couple with children (regardless on the number of children) is three units.
So monthly breakdown per unit is this:
- Bronze: $45 per unit each month
- Silver: $85 per unit each month
- Gold: $150 per unit each month
You might consider this plan if you are planning to expect another child in the future. If so, your wife can upgrade to the Gold unit plan to take advantage of the following maternity benefits.
Liberty charges an annual membership fee of $125 and also has three different tiers of coverage.
They are more expensive than CHM, with monthly premiums ranging from about $150 to $400 depending on if you are single, married, or a family.
Here is a screenshot of their three tier system:
Clicking the above image will take you to Liberty's program details image for more information.
If you have heard any advertisement for Christian health sharing plans on the radio, this is probably the company. Most commonly known as Medi-Share, it is run by Christian Care Ministry (which means this probably should be the first listing).
With Medi-Share, there are a couple one-time application ($50 application fee) and enrollment fees ($120 new member fee plus $5 payment account setup fee). Their monthly premiums vary depending on the level of the annual household portion (aka annual deductible).
The annual household portion (AHP) can range from $500 to $10,000. The lower the AHP, the higher the monthly premium. Medi-Share rates their monthly premium similar Christian Healthcare Ministries with the 1, 2, and 3 units concept. For a family of three, the monthly premium ranges from $1,713 each month for an AHP of $1,250 to $198.00 for an AHP of $10,000.
You can save up to 20% on the monthly premiums if you meet “Healthy Incentive” Standards, which are based on your waist measurement, BMI, and blood pressure.
One unique service offered by Medi-Share is something called Senior Assist. It is a supplement to Medicare Parts A&B. So even if Medi-Share isn't the best choice for you, it might help the older generations in your family!
Samaritan has a one-time $200 member application fee. The rates for members older than 25 are as follows:
They offer discounts to families where one or both of the heads of households are under the age of 25:
So what are there coverage levels?
Samaritan is a little different than the other three companies for their sharing model. There is no “deductible” and you can post needs up to $250,000
each year per incident. Needs below $300 are not posted, but anything above $300 is posted. Depending on the cash-flow for the month, the need might be fully met or not met.
The other ministries operate very similar to this approach, but Samaritan places greater emphasis on the concepts of sharing and prayer than others at first glance.
Update #1: Michael Miller from Samaritan Ministries International has included some very helpful information in the comments section below.
Are the Monthly Shares Tax Deductible?
All four of these ministries are 501(c)3 tax-deductible charities. Because these are not insurance companies, you pay monthly shares or gifts instead of monthly premiums. So the terms can be confusing at first.
The basic monthly gift amount is not tax-deductible. Anything given in excess of this amount can qualify as a charitable contribution.
All four ministries offer an additional program that provides additional coverage above the maximum household limit. CHM call's it Brother's Keeper & Samaritan calls it Save to Share, for example. Any member who is in this program donates extra money to help those with excess needs. Vice versa, these members can receive additional assistance because of their participation. A portion of the program donation may not be tax-deductible due to minimum administrative costs.
You can give extra donations without belonging to the additional programs as well, but cannot qualify for receiving additional assistance, if needed.
Is A Health Sharing Plan For You?
So what do you think about joining a health share ministry. Unfortunately it is not an option if you are do not meet all of the initial criteria(i.e. using tobacco). If you meet the basic criteria, this might be a great option for you and your family!
Medical coverage can be a weighty (and expensive) decision. For most people, it is largest or second largest monthly payment each month after paying the monthly rent or mortgage.
If nothing else, joining a ministry might the option for two different reasons. The first reason is that your monthly sharing amount helps other Christians, instead of going to an insurance company that spends the money as they please. A second reason to join a ministry is a matter of principle, you cannot afford a private insurance plan but do not want to take taxpayer subsidies to afford a Marketplace-policy.
Whatever the reason that you may or may not join a Christian Health Care Sharing Plan, I hope this information has been helpful for you or somebody else as a way to avoid a tax penalty while still having medical coverage. And you help others with their needs at the same time.
Do you belong to a Christian Health Sharing Plan? Is this the first time you have ever heard of one?
Thanks For Reading,
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.