In the continuing wake of a broken health care system, medical bill sharing companies such as Christian Health Ministries, have stepped into the gap to provide affordable health coverage to like minded individuals. The problem with test- driving any insurance, however, is no matter how many promises you get on the front end, the only thing that matters is the claim experience. I just finished processing our first Christian Healthcare Ministries Maternity claim.
The bible says we should ‘carry each other’s burdens’ Gal 6:2 (and then three verses later says everyone should ‘carry their own load’- Gal 6:5, but that’s a blog for another time). But how do we in a modern economy, where there is an app for everything, health care is litigated and everything is specialized, carry the burden of our brothers in sisters, especially in the area of healthcare?
Medical bill sharing companies have been experimenting with what this might look like on a national scale. Today, I unpack our first Christian Healthcare Ministries maternity claim from when we welcomed our 5th child (and first son), Trey, to the family.
What is a Medical Bill Sharing Arrangement?
Companies such as Medi-share, Christian Health Ministries, and Samaritan Ministries all qualify as ‘insurance’ according to the Affordable Health Care Act, but are decidedly NOT insurance.
Instead, participants pool their money together via monthly contributions, and then the administrator distributes these contributions as people experience claims. Unlike insurance companies, the burden of the medical bill is ultimately on the participant not the administrator. If suddenly there are more claims than contributions can cover, the administrator will disburse what funds exist, but whatever isn’t covered on the bill is up to you.
Typically, these companies require some level of adherence to a personal ethic, statement of belief and/or exclude certain pre-existing conditions or habits in order to participate. This, in theory, improves the risk pool and gives the participants peace of mind that their premiums are not contributing to medical or life style choices that offend their morals.
For Christian Health Ministries we signed a statement of belief and conduct, that included promises to attend church, not smoke and only use alcohol in moderation. We also signed a statement of understanding, that basically said CHM isn’t responsible for our medical bills, it simply facilitates the ‘sharing’.
So how did our Christian Healthcare Ministries maternity claim go?
Our Christian Healthcare Maternity Claim
We had a fairly standard delivery. The total gross bills were just shy of $20,000. After discounts because we were a ‘cash payor’, our net bills were in the $14,000 range.
We had Trey in February, a month later I gathered all the bills, filled out a worksheet and submitted them via an online portal. This was a fairly easy and self explanatory process. Though it was a bit archaic, physically printing out a sheet, filling it out by hand and scanning it back as a pdf. It was about 75 days before we saw our first check and three months after my initial submission, I just deposited my last check related towards the event and paid the last bill.
While CHM finished my claim in less than the 90-120 days they state the process may take, I still found the administrative side of things to be a little clunky and unorganized.
Because CHM is a group of people sharing medical bills they ask that you attempt to get discounts or apply for financial assistance with the care providers in order to lower the bills as much as possible. I did my best to apply for financial assistance and negotiate cash pay discounts, but quite frankly it often wasn’t top of mind for me. I called CHM twice checking up on the claim, finding out THEY were waiting on ME. The administrative work of dealing with multiple healthcare providers billing departments wasn’t my idea of a good time.
The fact that CHM relied on me to negotiate the discounts also seemed odd. It doesn’t appear to me that there is adequate accountability to ensure I don’t cash a CHM check, then negotiate a lower price with the provider and keep the difference. Even on reimbursement check stubs a large notice warns me that I must send back any excess money.
That lack of accountability has me concerned about potential future cost increases in medical share plans like this as they become more popular. I may be honest enough to send back the extra money, but that doesn’t mean everybody in the risk pool is.
Overall, I would say I am satisfied with our Christian Healthcare Ministry maternity claims experience. Unlike when we’ve had children on High-Deductible Health plans, our net out of pocket was $0 in comparison to the $6,000-$7,000 deductible we used to have to meet.
But it’s a mixed bag.
Medical bill sharing plans, while a step in the right direction from normal healthcare are not for everyone.
Not Funding Abortion
One of the most attractive things about CHM is that I have a better idea of what I am (and am not funding) with my premiums. Abortions and other moral and ethical medical practices that I do not want my dollars participating in are not covered through CHM, so I can rest assured that my dollars are going to share the financial burden of another believer’s health claim across the country.
There is also a sense of ‘doing good’ or ‘participation’ I get through paying my monthly contribution. I may not know or ever meet the people who are benefitting from the ministry, but I am not in a position where I am pitted against my insurer. They trying to squeeze as much profit out of my premiums as the can, me trying to nurse as much benefit out of every claim.
No ‘deductible’ per se
There are three levels to Christian Healthcare Ministries. Each level has a set dollar amount the claim must exceed befoe bill sharing will kick in.
Since our maternity claim was well over $500 we paid nothing out of pocket for the event.
This can be a blessing or a curse. If you have multiple low cost events in a year it can end up being a lot worse than a high deductible plan like you would get at your employer.
Our family is overall healthy and we typically only use health insurance for maternity claims and the occasional prescription. We come out way ahead not having to meet a large deductible for a big event like having a baby.
Lower and more flexible premiums
The premium costs for Christian Healthcare Ministries are really attractive. Each adult, and all the children of those adults are an individual ‘unit’. So me, my wife and our five kids equal three total units. I recently discovered that each ‘unit’ in the household can be on it’s own level. Since this claim is complete, I kept my wife on the top tier plan (mandatory for a Christian Healthcare Ministries maternity claim) but moved me and the kids onto the lower tier. Our monthly bill for a family of 7 is $352/mo. If you’re looking at ways to save money every month. A medical bill sharing plan may be right for you.
In addition, I can change my levels whenever I want. Unlike an employer sponsored healthcare plan where you can only change during open enrollment. If my financial position or preferences change, I can change my plan whenever I want. I will just have to continue any previously filed claims on the lower of the two levels.
I have concerns about the accountability towards other claimants. While, I may be honest and forthright enough to send any excess money back to Christian Healthcare Ministries, if for some reason there was a difference between my reimbursement and the bill, but not everybody is. From my vantage point (and I could be wrong), it does not seem that they have a very good process in place to ensure that people don’t abuse the reimbursement process and keep the difference between a reimbursement and a discounted bill.
I also found the processors in the back office, super ‘nice’, but not entirely confident in the answers they gave me. Here too, this is a blessing and a curse. I emailed back and forth with the one person working my claim, and she seemed to remember that we had talked when I called her. She seemed to have personal knowledge of my claim, instead of just processing pieces of paper.
This is not something you would experience in a major insurance company. The service is more ‘personal’, but that results in less standardized ‘processes’, making getting real answers a little difficult.
No Well-care or Pre-existing Conditions
If you want something that will cover well-checks, preventative health care or if you have certain pre-existing conditions that require expensive medication. Christian Healthcare ministries is not for you. There is no provision for paying for checkups, or tests that are involved with a diagnosis. That being said, on a standard high deductible plan, those medical visits would be paid first out of your deductible. In a year you had no health events you would be essentially paying for well-checks and preventative appointments in cash anyways.
This is a big distinction, and Christian Healthcare Ministries seems to try to do a good job of making sure you understand this. Unlike insurance, the burden to pay the bill is on YOU. If Christian Healthcare Ministries doesn’t have the money, or even if they run off with the money, you are still on the hook for the medical bill. This is very different than health insurance, since it is regulated and insured by the state to perform the payouts they guarantee.
CHM and other medical sharing programs attempt to operate under the biblical idea of ‘sharing each other’s burdens’. CHM isn’t for everyone. Do your due diligence and look at your current health situation and see if it’s right for you.
You might also check. Samaritan’s Ministries and Medi-share. We chose CHM because it was simple and had the most comprehensive maternity care for the price (though it was close). If you end up wanting to use Christian Healthcare Ministries, you can use my referral link and I’ll get a reduction of my sharing fee.
In our situation, even if I had access to an employer sponsored standard High Deductible Plan, I would likely still opt for this option because of our family’s relative health, ensuring my money supported things I believe in, and the attractiveness of the monthly outlay. But I am keeping my eye out for other developments in the health care industry as it is one of the most burdensome parts of the family budget.
What about you? Do you use a medical bill sharing company or alternative health coverage plan? Drop a comment and let me know what you’re doing.
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