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Health sharing or insurance?

Risë Labig

By Risë Labig, marketing specialist for Ohio’s Country Journal and Ohio Ag Net

Last year at this time, my husband and I were in the process of deciding whether to continue to participate in my company’s health care plan, or change to a “health-sharing” plan. Like the majority of Americans, premiums and deductibles have skyrocketed. Through no fault of our employer, I knew that based on us hitting milestone birthdays our premiums would rise. And rise they did, to the tune of over $1,100 per month, and that doesn’t include the deductible.

I am employed at a small business (Ohio’s Country Journal/Ohio Ag Net), as many people are. Small businesses simply do not have the “buying power” of a large group. As a result, premiums and deductibles are high. As anyone who has tried to navigate through deciding which deductible to choose — higher deductible, lower premium versus lower premium, higher deductible — well, it’s not easy. If your family medical history includes pre-existing conditions that are treated often, you may want the lower deductible. If your family history has leaned toward few medical issues, you may lean towards choosing a higher deductible so your premium is a little lower. It’s about risk, and no one understands risk better than those of us in ag.

Years ago, I had worked for one year in the life-health insurance division at an insurance company. I learned much in that year. It was with this knowledge under my belt that I felt I could research health-sharing and understand the differences from medical insurance.

Please note that health-sharing and health insurance are NOT the same. This is very important to understand. I like this definition, from CHM on what health sharing is: Health cost sharing is a way to satisfy your healthcare costs and help others while upholding your Christian beliefs and sticking to your budget.

We chose Christian Healthcare Ministries, which is the nation’s original health cost sharing ministry. It provides an affordable, accountable and faith-based framework to help fellow believers facing a health crisis. Likewise, brothers and sisters in Christ step in to help you in your time of need. Members’ pre-set monthly financial gifts to CHM are the funds used to share each other’s healthcare costs. The ministry shares 100% of eligible bills and overall has shared over $3.5 billion in members’ healthcare costs. CHM is also a Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity. CHM is an eligible option for individuals and families under the national healthcare law.

I seriously began to consider health sharing when I was scheduled to take a sleep apnea test home study. (Yes, I was not a “silent sleeper” and was going to share a cabin with my sister. She said I should do something about it, sis, so grudgingly I did.)

The hospital had called to confirm the home study sleep test, and I asked the cost for the test. It was about $762. Since I had not used my deductible, insurance would cover only $150 of it, which meant I would pay the balance of $612 out of pocket. It just irked me that even though I had insurance, paid a high monthly premium, and hadn’t used my deductible, I would still have to pay out-of-pocket. So, I decided to call back and ask what my cost would be if I did “self-pay”. She immediately said, “Oh — that’s an automatic 60% discount.” Yep. The wheels started turning.

So, the research began. I understood fully that it would mean I would become “self-pay.” I wouldn’t have medical insurance. Could we consider this? Was it too risky? I evidently gravitate to risk since I married a farmer.

Health sharing means that we are, in essence, sharing our medical bills with other people of a large group of similar beliefs. Christian health sharing has been around a long time. I reviewed what I considered the top three “safe” companies: Christian Healthcare Ministries, Samaritan Ministries, and Medi-Share. There are differences between all of them. I leaned toward CHM. They have been around the longest, have a great track record, and most importantly, I had local friends that had been using them for a few years and were quite satisfied.

We ran an article about a year ago on Samaritan Ministries — you can read the article here.

I know a few other farm families that have chosen Medi-Share. Please note that I believe ALL of these companies are very good. We go with what we know, so we decided to choose Christian Healthcare Ministries.

Our monthly premium, for Scott and I, is $150 each, or $300 per month. This includes a $500 deductible (meaning I pay the first $500 out of pocket for each unique illness). We knew the real challenge would be when we had our first office visit, medical testing, etc. Incidentally, my boss kept asking how I liked health sharing — and I told him that I don’t know ‘yet’ since I hadn’t had to use it (and that is a good thing).

Between Scott and I, we take just a few prescriptions. I made sure to check what prescription costs would be. I presumed they might increase, and this might be one of the “risks” I would take, yet I reasoned that a lower premium would offset a minor prescription increase. I challenge you all to take a look at what you are paying for prescriptions. I was shocked that I could actually get my same prescriptions for the same price and even LESS than what I was paying for WITH medical insurance. What? Yes. The website allowed me to review and compare. And I also found I could get them cheaper elsewhere in town, and I did. Another savings.

Our first occasion to use the health sharing was my annual blood test. I take blood pressure medicine and have hypothyroidism, so I take meds for those two and the doctor wouldn’t renew any prescriptions without it. Tests were ordered at CompuNet, and typically I never saw a bill for these when I had medical insurance. No charge. Right?

I told them I was “self-pay” when I signed in. They didn’t bat an eye. She said, okay, the price today for all the tests ordered is $742.01 (Gulp. I reasoned with myself that I was saving more than each month by my lower premiums) What surprised me was that she said: “and so, since you are self-pay, it is an automatic 50% discount.” Yes. And she continued to say that next time I have blood tests, I can order many of them myself. I was astounded. Instead of $353.42, I could pay online, self-pay for $45. I must admit, now I was feeling even better about my decision to do health sharing.

It gets better. A week or so later, I received a postcard in the mail from my local hospital. They were sharing the exact same story. They were offering “patient self-directed testing at a reduced cost as an alternative for individuals that have insurance with a high deductible and for those who do not have insurance at all.” I encourage you to see if your local hospital offers the same. Share this with someone. It may save them money.

So what does happen when I have something other than a simple office visit or blood test? Visit here to see the steps necessary to take when unplanned illnesses or emergencies arise.

We chose the Gold level plus Brother’s Keepers plan. I will have unlimited financial assistance available to me for all eligible medical bills (bills must total over $500 per incident). The Brother’s Keeper is a safeguard against catastrophic or illness that can exceed $125,000 (Gold plan). I must submit all and any medical invoices, with proper coding, to CHM. I had experience with this at the insurance company, so I knew it was quite doable for me.

Who might not want to consider health-sharing? If you have pre-existing conditions, please note that you will want to carefully read each company’s guidelines. Each company handles these uniquely, and must follow the law. Again, health sharing is not medical insurance. But it works, and has been around a long time.

As a family, we use a lot of natural health alternatives. They work for us. Exercise is a huge benefit (we’re still fine-tuning that one). Personally, we believe we need to do as much as we can for our own self-care to avoid running to the doctor for every sniffle. Each family is unique, and may not be able to do this, so do your research.

If you have more questions than what these company’s websites might provide, please know you are welcome to reach out to me at rlabig@ocj.com. I hope this article helps those of you who are interested in pursuing health sharing, and also encourages you to see if there are additional ways to lower your medical costs.

 

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