This Liberty HealthShare review is an accurate portrayal of our experience as Liberty HealthShare members. Since we believe honesty is the best policy, please note that this piece does include some links to our sponsors. We hope you find the piece helpful, and please let us know if you have any questions!
Are you struggling with rising health insurance rates? Did you lose your coverage and don’t know where to turn?
Trust me, I know the feeling.
Another year has gone by and the healthcare system seems to be in worse shape than ever. Premiums are increasing, insurers are pulling out of the marketplace, and people across the country are feeling the pinch. While this is not intended to be a political piece, we have experienced this situation ourselves. In this Liberty HealthShare review, I hope to help others find an alternative and affordable solution to this very difficult financial challenge.
Our Search for Affordable Health Insurance
Shortly after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was rolled out, my family was faced with a near impossible decision. Our old health insurance plan, which cost $393 per month and came with an $11,000 family deductible, was being cancelled because it didn’t meet ACA requirements. Yet, the new Obamacare plans cost more than twice as much AND came with even higher family deductibles to boot! (See: Why We’re Opting Out of Obamacare)
After a few months of digging, I discovered how some families were protecting themselves while still saving money on healthcare costs. The answer: Healthcare sharing ministries. After some serious comparison shopping between sharing plans, my family joined Liberty HealthShare in January of 2014.
I wanted to write a Liberty HealthShare review right away, but 2015 was pretty uneventful. Aside from our regular annual visits, none of us went to the doctor. So, I didn’t have a great idea of whether the program was going to work or not.
Fast forward to today, and we’ve been with Liberty HealthShare for three years. We’ve all of us seen the doctor and have even had a few procedures done. Now that we have some real claims history to report, a Liberty HealthShare review makes more sense.
In this review, I’ll discuss why we joined Liberty HealthShare, the biggest benefits we’ve gained, and how it has worked so far. I’ve also updated this piece to include the latest info and pricing for 2018.
So, without further ado, let’s get started!
What is Liberty HealthShare?
Liberty HealthShare is a healthcare sharing ministry that provides an alternative to the Affordable Care Act plans. While not traditional “health insurance,” its members pay for medical expenses similarly by sharing costs. For example, members pay a monthly “sharing” contribution instead of a health insurance premium. Then, they cover an “annual unshared amount” (similar to a deductible) before the share of expenses kicks in.
Liberty HealthShare: How It Works
Unlike the ACA-approved health insurance plans, Liberty HealthShare and other Christian sharing ministries don’t have to accept everyone who applies due to their religious exemption. If you smoke, have a chronic health condition, or are otherwise unhealthy due to weight or some other condition, you will likely be denied – at least initially.
In my opinion, this is one of the biggest drawbacks of sharing plans. On the flip side, not accepting those with existing health problems and “risky” lifestyles does help to keep costs down. With that said, even if you’re denied at Liberty HealthShare, all is not lost. If you’re serious about becoming healthier, you may still be eligible to join under Liberty’s HealthTrac™ “health coaching” option. (Psst… We’ll talk a little bit more about that later!)
Additionally, Liberty HealthShare and other healthcare sharing ministries require a little more work on your part. When you use a healthcare sharing ministry, you are responsible for making sure your medical bills are submitted. In some cases, your healthcare provider will submit bills directly to Liberty HealthShare for you. Other times, you will need to mail or fax the bills yourself.
Personally, I don’t mind monitoring our healthcare bills myself. I like to keep our spending in check anyway, and it’s not hard to scan and email bills. I just send them off and check the website to make sure they were submitted correctly. On the flip side, I appreciate it when our doctor’s office takes care of this task for us. Over the last few years, I would say this responsibility has fallen on us roughly 50 percent of the time.
With that being said, here’s what my Liberty HealthShare “inbox” looks like. Just by logging in, you can see which bills have been submitted, when each was paid, and how much your responsibility might be.
Other than how bills are submitted and the fact that healthcare sharing ministries can be picky about who they accept, the process is very familiar. For example, with Liberty HealthShare, we each get a “free” annual checkup. While it isn’t always necessary, that perk itself saves us around $600 per year. And like I mentioned already, we have an “annual unshared amount” that is similar to a health insurance deductible. After we meet that unshared amount, 100% of our costs are shared by the members – up to $1 million dollars per incident, based on the guidelines.
Liberty HealthShare Programs and Options
By and large, Liberty HealthShare offers three different levels of sharing. I’ll explain the one my family chose in a minute, but let’s first take a look at all three.
Liberty Complete is the most comprehensive of the programs. With this option, a family of four with adults over the age of 30 will pay $449 per month, while a younger family with kids would pay just $399 per month. Couples and singles pay even less. On this program members share costs up to $1,000,000 per incident or illness based on the guidelines which are subject to the “annual unshared amount.” Annual unshared amounts are: $1,500 per family, $1,000 for a couple, or $500 for a single member.
Liberty Plus costs a little less each month and offers a correspondingly lower level of sharing. A family of four with adults over the age of 30 would pay $424 per month. A younger family would pay $374, and couples and singles pay even less. The same annual unshared amounts apply ($1,500/family, $1,000/couple, $500/individual), yet sharing is limited to just $125,000 per incident or illness.
Liberty Share is the lowest tier program. With this sharing option, a family of four with adults over the age of 30 would pay $395 per month, and a younger family would pay $345. Couples and singles still pay less, and the annual deductibles stay the same ($1,500/family, $1,000/couple, $500/individual). The biggest difference here is medical expenses are shared at only 70% per incident up to $125,000, as per the guidelines.
With all three sharing programs, there is an annual membership fee that goes down to just $75 after the first year.
Liberty HealthShare: How Much Can You Save?
As I’ve shared before (See: “Why We’re Joining a Healthcare Sharing Ministry“), we joined Liberty HealthShare to avoid astronomical healthcare costs. With Obamacare plans in our area starting at about $800 per month with $12,000+ deductibles, we were facing total healthcare costs of over $20,000 if we met our deductible in a single year. Of course, there are subsidies available for those who earn less than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL), but we don’t qualify.
It’s no secret that prices for insurance on the open market continue to skyrocket. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, but the math was pretty simple for us.
Instead of paying over $800 a month plus facing a $12,000+ deductible, with Liberty HealthShare, we chose the Liberty Complete sharing program… and still pay just $449 per month. Even better, we have a $1,500 “annual unshared amount” instead of the $12K or $13K deductibles offered by the most affordable Obamacare plans in our state.
For us, Liberty HealthShare was a no-brainer. We’re saving thousands of dollars every year ($300-$400 every month) by opting out of health insurance and sharing medical costs instead! That’s pretty crazy when you think about it, and it doesn’t even take into account the $12,000+ deductible that I might have had to pay if we had health insurance. It’s just another reason I feel confident in our decision to choose Liberty HealthShare.
It’s also worth noting that our monthly sharing contribution has not seen an increase since we’ve been with Liberty (which is over three years now). I’m sure it will go up at some point, but when compared with the increases on the ACA market, I’m absolutely thrilled.
Liberty HealthShare Advantages
- Save money. Depending on how much Obamacare plans cost in your area, you can easily save a few hundred dollars each month.
- Avoid high deductibles. You would have to get a gold Obamacare plan to have a $1,500 deductible these days. But with all Liberty HealthShare plans, your “annual unshared amount” is limited to $1,500 per year for a family, $1,000 for a couple, or $500 for singles.
- Escape the Obamacare penalty. By joining a healthcare sharing ministry, you can avoid the Obamacare penalty. This tax equals 2.5% of your household income in 2017.
- Know where your healthcare dollars are going. Since healthcare sharing ministries don’t cover certain procedures the group finds “morally objectionable,” you can rest assured your dollars are being spent on healthcare procedures you agree with.
- You can see any doctor you want. While Obamacare plans come with increasingly narrow networks, Liberty HealthShare lets you see any doctor of your choosing. All they ask is that you shop around and negotiate for the best rates.
- Low administrative costs. Liberty HealthShare keeps their administrative costs low. According to their website, an average of just 12% of your sharing dollars are spent on administrative expenses. That means 88% of your sharing dollars are used to pay for the medical needs of others in the network.
Liberty HealthShare Disadvantages
- You may not qualify. If you smoke, are obese, or have a chronic health condition, you may not qualify for a healthcare sharing ministry. However, if you are committed to improving your health, you may qualify for HealthTrac™. This is a health coaching program designed to improve your health and may allow you to become a member.
- There is a religious component. Since these programs are generally geared toward Christians, you may not feel comfortable joining if you aren’t.
- You may not contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). Unfortunately, since medical cost sharing programs are not actually health insurance, you are not allowed to contribute tax-free money to a Health Savings Account (HSA).
- You need to monitor your own bills closely. While your doctor’s office may handle your claim for you, you’ll need to monitor your expenses online to make sure they post correctly.
- There are arguments over whether or not your monthly shared amount is deductible if you own a business. Since this isn’t “insurance,” some accountants argue you cannot deduct your monthly share amount if you own a business. Our accountant disagreed, however, so we have deducted our sharing contributions for the last two years. There is definitely a gray area here.
- Medical cost sharing is not unlimited. Obamacare plans don’t limit coverage. Liberty HealthShare members only share costs up to $125,000 or $1,000,000 per illness or incident, based on the group’s guidelines. If you ended up with an incredibly expensive illness or injury, you could potentially blow through that limit fast.
Liberty HealthShare Review: Frequently Asked Questions
Since I first posted this review, I’ve received hundreds of comments, emails, and questions about the program. While I’d definitely recommend you contact Liberty HealthShare with questions specific to your personal situation, here are a few of the most common questions I’ve been asked.
1) Is Liberty HealthShare the same as health insurance?
No. Liberty HealthShare is not health insurance. It is a medical cost sharing program in which members share healthcare costs between them. We use Liberty HealthShare as an alternative to enrolling in a health insurance plan.
2) So, is Liberty HealthShare a scam?
No. It is very real. In our experience, the members of Liberty HealthShare have shared all our medical expenses that were eligible for sharing per our plan guidelines.
3) Are healthcare sharing ministries a new concept?
No. Healthcare sharing ministries are not new, but rising health insurance costs have definitely made them more popular. Medical cost sharing programs can trace their roots back to the mid-1980s. As a group, Liberty HealthShare’s parent organization (Gospel Light Mennonite Church Medical Aid Plan, Inc.) has been sharing medical costs since 1995.
4) Do I have to belong to a specific Christian denomination to become a member?
No. Compared to some medical cost sharing programs, one of the biggest advantages of joining Liberty HealthShare is that you do NOT need to belong to a specific denomination. Some sharing ministries require you to be a member of an evangelical church and/or get a signed note from your pastor. With Liberty HealthShare, you must simply agree to a statement of beliefs – which essentially says that you believe in God, that all people have a right to worship in their own way, and that people have the right to direct their own healthcare decisions free from government interference.
5) Are there any other lifestyle requirements I need to know about?
Yes. In an effort to keep costs down, Liberty HealthShare members agree to take responsible and reasonable care of their own health. This includes not drinking alcohol excessively, not using tobacco, not abusing illegal drugs or prescription medication, and getting regular exercise.
6) Wait, are you saying I can’t drink or smoke?
As a member, you agree to not drink excessively or abuse alcohol. If you are a tobacco user, you are given 6 months to become tobacco free. You will also be required to complete nicotine testing.
7) What about pre-existing conditions? Are they eligible for sharing?
Eventually. Liberty HealthShare considers pre-existing conditions to be “any condition at the time of enrollment that has evidenced symptoms, or received treatment or medication in the past 24 months.” Pre-existing conditions are not eligible for sharing your first year of membership. From there, they are gradually eligible for more sharing each year until they receive full sharing status during your fourth year of membership.
8) Do Liberty HealthShare members share dental and vision expenses?
No. Medical cost sharing with Liberty does not extend to dental or vision procedures or expenses.
9) What if I am denied membership due to health reasons?
If something in your application triggers a denial based on your health, you may be eligible to join the Liberty HealthTrac™ program. This program pairs members with a health coach and helps set realistic goals for improving their health. A monthly participant fee is required for the HealthTrac™ program and will be dropped upon graduation. While everyone is different, Liberty states that they expect to see improvements in the members health within a year.
10) Will my doctor accept Liberty HealthShare?
Unlike health insurance plans, Liberty HealthShare does not have networks. You can use the program with any doctor you choose. Simply inform them that you are part of a medical cost sharing program, show them your card, and have them send bills directly to Liberty HealthShare. (If you have not met your annual sharing amount, you will still be responsible for the total.) I have only encountered one situation in which my doctor would not bill Liberty. In that instance, I was treated as a self-pay patient. I then faxed the bill to Liberty and they handled payment for me.
11) Are there limits on the amount of sharing?
Yes. Members are currently limited to sharing amounts of up to $125,000 or $1,000,000 per incident, depending on the program you select.
12) Will I still have to pay the Obamacare tax penalty?
No. Although the fate of the Obamacare mandate and accompanying tax penalty is a bit up in the air, it doesn’t really matter if you have Liberty HealthShare. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), members belonging to recognized healthcare sharing ministries are exempt from paying the penalty. Simply file IRS Form 8965 with your personal income taxes.
13) Can I cancel my Liberty HealthShare membership at any time or am I obligated to stick with the program?
You can cancel your Liberty HealthShare membership at any time and are under no obligation to continue with the program. Keep in mind that you do pay initial membership dues of $125.00 and annual membership dues each year thereafter of $75.00. Liberty HealthShare allows you to join the program for 30 days risk free. If you cancel within your first 30 days, the membership fee will be refunded. However, canceling after the 30-day period results in a forfeiture of your membership dues.
14) Is there a specific enrollment period or can I join whenever I’m ready?
Unlike Obamacare, you can join Liberty HealthShare at any point during the year.
Liberty Healthshare Review: The Bottom Line
After almost two years with Liberty HealthShare, I am extremely confident we made the right decision. We’re saving money every month, and we get to see any doctor of our choosing. As an added bonus, our out-of-pocket costs are limited and our annual unshared amount is just $1,500.
If you’re considering a healthcare sharing ministry, I urge you to compare Liberty with the other options out there. I liked some other comparable programs, but we chose to go with Liberty HealthShare because we felt that the payments and sharing arrangement made sense for our situation. And if you’re struggling under the weight and expense of unreasonable Obamacare plans, it makes sense to shop around as much as you can.
Have you ever heard of healthcare sharing ministries? Would you join one? Why or why not?