Health care sharing ministry
A health care sharing ministry is a network arranged by an organization for the purpose of covering the health care costs of its members. The goal of such an organization is to provide the same results as insurance, but operate in a much more fair and inexpensive manner. These ministries are usually based on a specific religion or belief system—in the United States, all such ministries are Christian.
For-profit Insurance companies agree to cover certain medical costs of specific people, in exchange for them paying a certain fee each month. This fee is paid to the insurance company (at which time they loose control over it), where it is presumably used to pay for the medical expenses of others. Some of this money also is used to pay employee salaries, overhead costs, and facility improvements. The remainder is paid out to various hospitals, doctors, and other medical companies for anything from a heart transplant to an abortion.
Members can officially choose their own doctors and treatments, but insurance companies often dictate what can and cannot be done by paying for some services and refusing to pay for others, but also threatening to refuse service if members do not do certain things, such as getting immunizations.
Heath care sharing
Non-profit health care sharing ministries agree to coordinate the exchange of funds, sometimes for a slight sign-up fee, but often for no cost other than each member paying their share. When medical care is needed, members of such a network will usually pay out of pocket initially. Then, they will notify he organization, which will arrange for other members to send their monthly shares to the people who have paid medical bills. Each member who receives covered medical care will be reimbursed by other members of the network directly.
Each member is assigned a "share" (amount of money) they are to send each month, and when it is due, they are instructed on who to send it to and what it is needed for. These payments never pass through the organization, but pass directly between members.
Members of this system usually have more flexibility in what treatments they accept or refuse, and they can always choose their own care providers. Most organizations also cover some preventive treatments, often more so than insurance companies.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ObamaCare") has impacted health care sharing ministries, but probably not in the way the liberal administration wanted. Surprisingly, an exception was inserted into this bill before it was passed which exempted health care sharing ministry members from punishment for not subscribing. The direct result of the passing of this law was the increase in health sharing ministry members. However, there are still restrictions on these organizations to qualify for the exemption. They include:
- Must be grandfathered in, having been continuous operation since December 31, 1999
- Must be a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
- Membership cannot be limited to certain states
- Members must share ethical or religious beliefs
- Membership cannot be revoked due to development of a medical condition
- Must undergo an annual audit by an independent CPA, the records of which must be made publicly available if requested
There are four organizations which satisfy these requirements: Christian Healthcare Ministries, Samaritan Ministries, Liberty HealthShare, and Christian Care Medi-Share. At least one more organization (Medical Cost Sharing) does not, but arranges to cover all or most of the government's fines to compensate for this deficiency. Medical Cost Sharing has proven that it is not too late for such organizations to be formed, since it does not qualify to be grandfathered in, but is still functioning.