Bearing One Another’s Burdens

Like a bunch of other people, my family was informed by our insurance provider a few weeks ago that our rates would be going up by nearly 40% effective March 1.  Since I’m going to be without a full-time job effective March 1, this is really poor timing.  I’m not sure it would be good timing even if I wasn’t going to be out of a full-time job.  But it’s certainly not good at the moment.

In my denominational polity, most of our professional church workers are enrolled in a comprehensive health/life insurance and retirement program.  By all accounts, it’s a really good program, although I’ve heard rumors that there is beginning to be talk of not being able to meet obligations on retirement payments to some degree.  The drawback to the program is that it’s very expensive.  A small group of insured people means that the per-insured cost is pretty steep.  Since the congregation I was called to in 2007 was very small and struggling financially, and to make a point as I started my ministry among them, I told them that I wasn’t going to accept our denominational insurance/retirement plan because it was too expensive.  Funds were tight, things needed to get done, and I wanted to demonstrate that I was not here to milk these people.  By choosing an individual health insurance plan for my family, the congregation saved over 50% of what the costs would have been to them.  I then asked that the savings be used to pay a good chunk towards health insurance for our church administrator and pre-school staff, something I was told had been a goal of the congregation’s for some time, but they had never found the wherewithal to actually make it happen.

All of which is probably irrelevant.  But I’m in a nostalgic mood. 

I’ve been investigating less expensive medical insurance coverage for my family.  I think we’ve come up with a solution which, while not cheap, will save us some money in the coming months – certainly compared to what our coverage costs were going to jump to in two weeks.  However, in the course of evaluating options, I’ve discovered an incredibly fascinating alternative.

Christian medical cost sharing.

This isn’t insurance.  It’s a voluntary program.  Members covenant to live healthy Christian lifestyles (watching their weight, not taking drugs, minimizing drinking, etc.), to practice Christian concern for one another (sending notes of encouragement to other members who are suffering, praying for those who are in medical need), and where members commit a certain amount per household each month towards the medical expenses of others.  I’ve found two programs thus far.  They differ slightly in their approaches, but the overall idea is the same.  Christians assist other Christians with their medical expenses, and their own medical expenses  are also shared with other Christians.  While I had heard of these in vague ways in the past, I’d never checked into them. 

Samaritan Ministries is the first one that I discovered, through a high school friend I reconnected with on Facebook.  The monthly household contribution is not called a premium.  You don’t send it to a provider.  Rather, each month you are directed to another member of Samaritan Ministries who has reported (and the organization has verified) a legitimate medical need.  Any amount over $300 and under $100,000 is eligible for being shared with the network members.  There is a separate, voluntary program for expenses beyond $100,000.  Your money goes directly to someone else in need, and you also pray for them and send notes of encouragement.  If you have a medical need, you become the recipient of direct financial aid, encouragement, and prayers.  They have over 13,000 members.

Medi-Share is the second of these organizations I’ve examined.  It’s similar in function.  However, you send your monthly contributions to Medi-Share rather than directly to another person.  Also, you have the ability to choose what the equivalent of your annual household deductible is going to be.  The higher the deductible you choose, the lower your monthly costs.  A 20% discount is also available if you meet certain health criteria pertaining to weight.  Annual deductible options range from $500/year for single people under the age of 30, to $10,000 for a family household.  I wasn’t able to see how many members are in this program, but they’ve been around since 1993.

Both organizations make it clear that they are not insurance.  You remain liable for your own medical bills.  The organizations negotiate discounts with your medical provider, and then your need is shared with members of the networks.  There’s no guarantee that you will get any – let alone all – of your medical bills paid.  But the intent is that you’re going to be assisted – a lot.  My friend indicates that they’ve never had a medical need go unmet by the members of their network.  She said on one or two occasions, only 85% – 90% of their medical needs were covered, but that’s better than the co-insurance rates on many health insurance policies. 

Has anyone else out there had experience or insight into these programs?  They’re totally fascinating – both theologically and from a more practical perspective.  While it’s not something we’re going to do right this minute, it’s something that I want to look into doing in the future. 

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