Health Care Sharing Ministries: Foregoing Health Insurance for the Kindness of Strangers

Health Care Ministries

As the health care deadline extension draws near, Christian families across the country are opting for informal health care networks that share medical expenses. Instead of paying for health insurance premiums, health care sharing ministries provide care (albeit without guaranteed protections of traditional health insurance plans) to hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Those covered under a ministry are exempt from Affordable Care Act requirements, making these health care groups all the more appealing to the country’s uninsured.

How Health Care Sharing Ministries Work

A report from The Indianapolis Star highlights the story of Ellery Hunsley, a man belonging to a health care sharing ministry, but also carries health insurance coverage for catastrophic illnesses. When his daughter Autumn fell ill with a brain tumor in 2004, his health insurance was not enough to pay the $400,000 bill.

The Samaritan Ministry stepped in to help, directing its members to send their monthly payments directly to the Hunsley family to cover medical expenses.

However, no two health care sharing ministries are exactly alike. Some act like health insurance plans, while others seem more like charities. Eileen Wade, a member of the Medi-Share ministry told Fox News that her plan is just like conventional health insurance coverage.

“I have an insurance card. I show it just like anyone else would. I have a deductible. I have a monthly premium that I pay,” Wade said.

Related: How Do Health Deductibles Work?

Not Health Insurance

To be accepted into health care sharing ministries, members must promise to live “Christian” lives. This usually means attending church regularly, limiting alcohol and avoiding illicit drugs, cigarettes and extramarital sex. These practices may represent common Christian ideals, but may also promote a healthier lifestyle — a likely reason for the success of Christian health care sharing ministries.

Ministries are careful to inform members that payment for medical expenses is never guaranteed. Its plans don’t pay for regular physical examinations or medications. Instead, ministry funds are intended to help families struck by sudden, catastrophic and unexpected illness pay for their health care bills. For those willing to commit to the requirements that come along with being a member of health care sharing ministries, this can translate into big savings on health insurance.