For the first time in our lives, we'll be without traditional health insurance. We've decided to join a healthcare sharing ministry instead. Here's why.Starting January 1st, 2015, we’ll be without traditional health insurance for the first time in our lives.  As someone who has paid health insurance premiums faithfully for my entire adult life, it feels really, really weird saying that.  But the fact is, when we shopped around for health insurance this year, we discovered that healthcare sharing ministries simply offered the best value out there.  Let me explain how we reached that conclusion:

Shopping for Health Insurance

We’ve had the same Anthem plan for several years now, although the terms have changed over time.  When we started this particular plan, premiums were around $350 per month.  Now it costs $393 per month.  I was never happy about the fact that our premium climbed, but I could live with a $20 monthly increase.

Then last year, we found out that our health insurance plan was going to be cancelled since it didn’t meet requirements set forth by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also known as Obamacare.  They ultimately extended our plan another year, but that extension would only last until December 2014.  So for 2015, we had to find something else.

The first thing I did was contact a broker that sold plans off the exchange.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find any exceptional value out there, and I didn’t find anything cheaper than the least expensive plans on the exchange on Healthcare.gov either.  So, for comparison’s sake, I’m going to use plans from Healthcare.gov to show what our costs would be for 2015 if we maxed out our deductible.  Let’s start with our current plan that is being cancelled at the end of this year:

Anthem Lumenos with HSA

  • Monthly Premium: $393
  • Annual Deductible: $11,000
  • Maximum Cost of Care per Calendar Year: $15,716

Price Differences Between 2014 and 2015

To illustrate the difference between my old plan and my new options, I created a table with my current plan and three new ones – one is the absolute cheapest plan I found on or off the exchange, another is the cheapest Anthem plan available, and the last one is the Anthem plan they are replacing my $393 per month plan with:

Plan Annual Family Deductible and Out-of-Pocket Max Monthly Premium Maximum Cost of Care per Calendar Year (Premiums Plus Out-of-Pocket Max)
Anthem Lumenos Plan for 2014 $11,000 $393 $15,716
CareSource Just4Me 2015 $13,200 $729 $21,948
Anthem Bronze Pathway 2015 $12,600 $822 $22,464
Anthem Bronze Plus HSA 2015 $12,000 $897 $22,764

 

First of all, I must concede that there are many, many more options both on and off the exchange this year compared to last.  In 2014, we only had a few options to choose from, and all of them were pretty bad.  This year, several new insurers began offering plans on the exchange, with overall costs that were somewhat lower.  Unfortunately, those lower costs came with $13,000+ deductibles, which is something I had been trying to avoid.

Healthcare Sharing Ministries: A Cheaper Alternative?

Once I realized our plan was being cancelled and that the new plans were much more expensive, I started looking for other options.  And, lo and behold, I stumbled upon a few healthcare sharing ministries.  I wasn’t sure what to think at first, but I liked the idea.

Related: Liberty Healthshare Review 2016

We ultimately chose to join Liberty Healthshare.  For the sake of simplicity, I am only going to share how our costs will compare to the other pricey options mentioned above.  There are, however, several other healthcare sharing ministries out there, including Christian Medi-share and Samaritan Ministries.  Let’s start with the financial details.  I went ahead and added Liberty Healthshare to the bottom of the chart above so it would be easy to see the difference:

PlanAnnual Family Deductible and Out-of-Pocket MaxMonthly PremiumMaximum Cost of Care per Calendar Year (Premiums Plus Out-of-Pocket Max)
Anthem Lumenos Plan for 2014 (our cancelled plan)$11,000$393$15,716
CareSource Just4Me 2015$13,200$729$21,948
Anthem Bronze Pathway 2015$12,600$822$22,464
Anthem Bronze Plus HSA 2015$12,000$897$22,764
Liberty Healthshare 2015$1,500$449$6,888

The Benefits of Liberty Healthshare

First of all, people constantly tout the “free well care” that comes with the new health insurance plans.  What many people don’t know is that Liberty Healthshare also offers one free well visit per family member, per year.  In addition, they also cover a mammogram and pap smear every other year.  Although healthcare sharing ministries are not insurance, they work in a very similar fashion.  After we pay our monthly share amount (a.k.a. premium), the most we can be on the hook for is our $1,500 annual unshared amount, which works as our deductible.

Obviously, the financial benefit is huge.  Even if we don’t spend a dollar on healthcare during the calendar year, we will save $3,360 in premiums alone.  If one of us gets sick, the difference between the annual costs of the cheapest plan available and Liberty Healthshare is over $15,000!  And remember, that’s just one year’s worth of savings.

family pictureBut the biggest benefit has nothing to do with money.  My nephew got hit by a car this summer and was immediately whisked away to Riley Children’s Hospital, one of the premier children’s hospitals in the country.  I visited him there, and was astonished at the excellent care he was receiving as well as the general environment he was placed in.  The hospital was beautiful and clean. The doctors and nurses were nothing but the absolute best and were trained to care specifically for children.  Even better, the entire building was geared to children.

If we go with Liberty Healthshare, I can see any doctor or go to any hospital of our choosing, provided they are willing accept payment from Liberty Healthshare.  On the other hand, none of the health insurance plans on the lower end of the price scale include any of the specialty hospitals near my house in their network.  So if we got cancer, we couldn’t go to IU Simon Cancer Center, even though it’s only 30 minutes from my house.  And if, heaven forbid, one of our kids got really sick, we couldn’t go to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital or Riley Children’s Hospital.   I simply cannot fathom the thought of paying $729 and up for insurance that would never afford us the opportunity for world class care.  Meanwhile, Liberty Healthshare opens those options up to us, although I hope we never need them.

Related:

The Drawbacks of Joining a Healthcare Sharing Ministry

Obviously, it’s not all puppies and rainbows if we join a healthcare sharing ministry.  In fact, there are some notable disadvantages to doing so, including a few that are downright troubling.  First of all, since it is not traditional insurance, we cannot deduct our premiums on our taxes like we do now.  Since I have very few deductions as it is, that is definitely not ideal.  And second, we also cannot continue to contribute to a HSA, or Health Savings Account.  Fortunately, I have plenty of money in ours and we can continue to let it grow and use it as needed.

I estimate that we’ll pay about $2,500 more in taxes in 2015 since we will no longer have our health insurance tax write-off.  However, it’s easy to justify that change since we will be paying a whole lot less, especially if one of us gets sick.

There are other drawbacks too.  Unlike new ACA-compliant plans, our healthcare sharing ministry has a cap of $1 million dollars per illness.  That’s a lot, but it’s not unheard of to blow through $1 million quickly if you get brain cancer.  Furthermore, they don’t cover certain procedures that the group finds morally objectionable, with most of those having to do with birth control.  Then again, since Greg had the snip-snip, that is simply not an issue for us anymore.

Healthcare Sharing Ministries: An Imperfect Alternative

Honestly, I went back and forth over this issue several times.  What our decision boiled down to is that I could not, in good conscience, expose my family to the risk of spending more than $20,000 per year on health care if one of us got sick.  And the fact that none of the cheaper insurance options had any of the specialty hospitals in their network was enough to drive the nail in the coffin.  I can’t imagine paying that much for insurance only to find out that my daughters couldn’t be seen by specialists trained specifically to care for them.  If I’m going to pay that much money, I want to go wherever the hell I want.

Honestly, I feel as if we no longer have any good options.  We’re just choosing the best thing we can find out of what is left out there.  And if we don’t like it for some reason, we can always purchase an ACA-approved plan during the next open enrollment period.   And yes, joining a healthcare sharing ministry does exempt you from paying the 2% penalty for not having health insurance, so at least there’s that.

My plan isn’t perfect, but it’s all I got.

Important Note: If you enjoyed this post and found value in it, please consider letting me refer you to Liberty Healthshare. I get a Visa gift card when people sign up through their affiliate program. Please contact me at holly at club thrifty dot com if you want to sign up through my link and/or ask any questions about my experience with Liberty Healthshare. I promise to answer every email. This post was last updated on 6/6/2016.

Do you know anyone who has joined a healthcare sharing ministry?  What are your views on these programs?