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The religious alternative to Obamacare

Lauren Silverman Jan 10, 2014

The religious alternative to Obamacare

Lauren Silverman Jan 10, 2014

Diane Cozart is a believer. She’s a devout Christian whose faith plays out in every aspect of her life, including her health care. So when she began searching for health insurance with her husband fifteen years ago, they selected an alternative, biblical model of sharing. It’s called Medi-Share.

Faith, And Contributions Required

Members of this faith-based group agree to a strict set of principles. To attend church, abstain from extramarital sex, and avoid alcohol and drug abuse. You violate these rules, and you could lose health coverage.

“I like it that my insurance dollars are not going to help pay for folks who live alternate lifestyles,” Cozart says. “I feel confident I’m not paying for another person’s bad choices, and maybe they do things that are not healthful. So my premiums stay down.”

Medi-Share participants do pay less on average than they might for traditional insurance — 30 percent less for according to a 2009 study by the industry trade group the Association of Health Insurance Providers. That’s in part because less is covered. Rules on preventative care and pre-existing conditions vary, but you can pretty much forget about the morning after pill, abortions, or drug rehab.

Every month Cozart contributes $590 – that’s for her husband and two youngest kids – to a Member Share Exchange run by a credit union. That credit union transfers funds from one member’s bank account to another’s when there’s a medical need that’s covered.

No Guarantee

Sharing Ministries aren’t insurance – there’s no guarantee a bill will be covered.

Tony Meggs, president of the Ministry which facilitates Medi-Share, explains the 70,000 members of Medi-Share simply agree to share in each other’s medical needs.

There’s also no reserves.

“If we were to build reserves,” Meggs says, “We would be pooling money and that’s insurance. What we have is a patented process that simply enables you and I to share money between our accounts.”

It’s worked this way for twenty years and supporters successfully lobbied Congress for an exemption in the Affordable Care Act – so people like Diane Cozart can stay with their faith-based alternative without penalties.

That’s good news for health sharing ministries like Medi-Share.

Obamacare Fueling Growth

The two largest health care sharing ministries – Medi-Share and Samaritan Ministries – have nearly doubled their membership since 2010. The two groups together count more than 160,000 members across the country.

“Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010,” Meggs says, “We have seen significant growth.”

Regulation Concerns

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans have to cover a set of essential health benefits – things like lab tests, prescription drugs, and mental health services. You also can’t be turned down because of a pre-existing condition or because you’re gay, for example.

Kevin Lucia, a Senior Research fellow at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University, explains these consumer protections don’t apply to health care sharing ministries because they’re not regulated as insurance.

“You don’t have a team of regulators watching them closely to make sure that they’re financially solvent, that they’re not going to go bankrupt if they get a huge claim,” Lucia says.

He also worries that these cost-sharing ministries won’t be held accountable if they refuse to reimburse benefits expressed in their contracts.

But lack of consumer protections and guarantees hasn’t stopped thousands of people from signing up.

They’re turning to fellow believers and putting their health in God’s hands.

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