According to CNBC, medical bills are the #1 cause of US bankruptcies. And even among those who don’t go bankrupt, it is estimated that over 20% of the US adult population struggle with health-care related bills. I myself had a health scare when I was 23 years old that nearly cost my life, and if I wasn’t covered under my parents’ health insurance at the time, my situation would have been among these statistics–my financial health destroyed. While I may have argued that health insurance, especially for the young and healthy, was an unnecessary luxury at one point in my life, I don’t believe that anymore.

But my guess is that even most people who say health insurance isn’t necessary wouldn’t mind having it, they simply think that it’s too expensive.  It’s true that if you live in the US, health coverage, assuming you don’t get it affordably through your work, isn’t cheap. (I can hear our readers in Canada and other countries with socialized healthcare chuckling right now.) Moreover, now with the Affordable Care Act health insurance mandate, it’s expensive NOT to have health insurance too! So what’s a Crumb Saver to do?

A Medical Bill Sharing Program

For the Christians among us, I want to share a little bit about a service we’ve been using called Medi-Share.*  While it isn’t officially “health insurance,” Medi-Share is actually a healthcare sharing program where Christians pool their financial resources together to share the costs of each other’s medical expenses. Members who join pay a monthly premium (determined based on age, size of family, and deductible/annual household portion) that goes into an account that can be tapped to cover expenses of other members. It effectively functions as health insurance and members are also exempt from the government mandate to purchase health insurance.

Deb and I chose the $5000 Annual Household Portion or AHP (their equivalent of a deductible) and the monthly premium for both of us combined is currently $189. Under the lowest “Bronze” level plan for TN that we found on HealthCare.gov, our monthly premiums would have been around $300.

No brainer, right?

Let’s just summarize some of the pros and cons, shall we?

Pros

  • Much more affordable than health insurance plans in the HealthCare.gov exchanges (for our family, at least).
  • Includes more coverage than comparable health insurance plans.
  • There is a health incentive where if you meet certain health benchmarks, you get a discount on your premium.  (Our discount came out to be $23/month, but can be up to 20%.)
  • Monthly premiums increase as you go from one individual to two to three in a plan, but costs remain the same from three members and up.  Nice for families with more than three people!
  • There have not been any cases (to my knowledge) where funds in the pool were insufficient to help an eligible need in over 20 years of operation.
  • The AHP is much more straightforward than deductible, co-insurance, and out-of-pocket maximums that regular health insurance use.
  • The finances are very transparent. Fees are reasonable and clearly explained. Health expenses are shared directly from our account to the other member in need and we get notified of the individual’s name and how much was withdrawn from our account.
  • They have good customer service.
  • No annual or lifetime limit on claims.

Cons

  • Only eligible costs can be shared, and the criteria are subject to change by members each year.
  • The application process is a bit more complicated than signing up for regular health insurance with many pieces of physical paperwork that need to be faxed/sent in.
  • Upfront sign-up costs are high. There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee, a one-time $120 membership fee, and a one-time $5 credit union account fee on top of the first month’s premium.
  • Health incentive requires re-approval each year, which involves an additional fee (amount may vary) for the blood work.
  • There is no $0 copay option.
  • No options for preventative, dental, or optical care.
  • They do have some restrictions on pre-existing conditions (with plenty of reasonable exceptions), while regular health insurance no longer discriminates based on pre-existing conditions.

Biblical Lifestyle Required

A key thing to know about Medi-Share is that members must abide by what they call a “Biblical lifestyle”. This involves not having sex outside of a traditional marriage, abusing alcohol, tobacco, or any other drugs, and being a practicing Christian. A violation of these guidelines may result in health claims being rejected or even a loss of membership. This is a way that they control the risk pool, which helps to keep costs low for those who are members. However, this means not everyone can become members and not all claims will be accepted. (For example, I heard of a member who got in a massive car accident but his medical bills were rejected by Medi-Share because he was intoxicated when he wrecked.)

Our Experience

Deb and I have had a good experience with Medi-Share so far.  The initial application was a bit of a chore, but that was a small inconvenience compared to the overall savings.  Medi-Share is a professional operation and they make a real effort to be more than just a business but a ministry. Communication has been consistently clear and the customer service, top-notch. We’ve had multiple withdrawals from our account to fund other members’ health needs, but it’s happened far less than I expected. It does help me sleep better at night knowing that the rate of withdrawal from the funding pool looks to be much slower than the rate of deposits. We’re also glad that they offer incentive for members to stay healthy in order to save money. (You know we’re all for that!) We haven’t had to file a medical claim yet, but we will post an update of the experience if we ever do.

If you are in need of healthcare coverage and you meet the criteria to apply, consider giving Medi-Share a look.

*The links to Medi-Share in this post are referral links, which means that if you click through these links and join, we will receive a referral bonus.