Healthcare sharing ministries have existed for a long time, but the term currently refers to organizations of people with shared religious beliefs who share medical bills. The associations differ from health “insurance.” Members join together in a cooperative association and decide which costs to cover. Health care costs are paid for by the group. Members of religious or moral-belief-based health sharing organizations are exempt from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Here are five things to know about healthcare cost sharing ministries.
Healthcare Sharing Ministries Won’t Pay for Every Type of Care
According to an NPR report, most organizations that share medical bills between members have restrictions on the types of procedures the group will pay for. One primary restriction is abortion. Other restrictions include some pre-existing conditions, contraception, or mental health counseling. Healthcare cost sharing organizations emphasize Christian beliefs and lifestyles. Many of them are unlikely to pay for health care resulting from lifestyle choices such as alcohol, tobacco, or other types of substance use.
Medical Expense Sharing Organizations Pay for More Than Medical Care
Because the organizations share common religious and moral beliefs, they will pay for some non-medical expenses, like funeral costs. They will also cover costs related to adopting children, and religiously-oriented counseling and pastoral care. Members also help other members to obtain cost-effective care, and provide support before, during and after surgical procedures.
Healthcare Cost Sharing Organizations are Not Insurance Companies
Healthcare cost sharing organizations are officially classified as mutual benefit membership organizations, not insurance companies. They operate under the Federal tax code that regulates business, professional, and religious or fraternal societies and associations. Clubs like Rotary and cooperatives like the Auto Club also operate under provisions of this part of the Internal Revenue Code.
Membership Payments Instead of Premiums
Because healthcare cost sharing associations are mutual benefit or cooperative societies, monthly membership payments are not considered tax-deductible. The monthly memberships are not the same as insurance premiums, either. When members make a monthly payment, the funds go into a shared pool that members can apply to for payment of medical bills. The monthly payments can be $300 a month or less, according to Christianity Today.
Healthcare Expense Sharing Organizations Existed Before the Affordable Care Act
In order to qualify for an exemption from the Affordable Care Act, healthcare sharing organizations must have been in operation since 1999. Many of the larger organizations began before 1999, including some dating back to the early part of the 20th century. According to Christianity Today, healthcare sharing organizations have more than 670,000 members. Changes in the law are not anticipated to affect membership much because most members are satisfied with their organization and the service they receive, Christianity Today reported.
Healthcare sharing ministries are mutual benefit organizations that bring members together to pool resources to pay medical bills for members. Most members pay for routine care and check-ups on their own. They usually make applications for higher bills, such as surgery and hospitalization. Most, but not all, of the organizations are a part of a Christian ministry. With more than 670,000 members, including families, seniors and people under 30 who have experienced challenges purchasing affordable medical insurance on healthcare exchanges, ministries devoted to sharing healthcare costs among people with similar religious beliefs are anticipated to continue to attract new members and thrive.