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 your healthcare situation?
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 a solution to this difficult financial challenge.
Our Search for a Healthcare Solution
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 planning for unforeseen medical bills. The answer: Healthcare sharing ministries. After some serious comparison shopping between sharing the ministries, 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 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!
Liberty HealthShare is a healthcare sharing ministry whose members share medical expenses. It’s not health insurance. Its members pay for medical expenses by sharing the costs. Members pay a monthly “sharing” contribution which pays for the medical expenses of other members. Then, when they have needs, they first must meet an “annual unshared amount” (similar to a deductible) before their expenses are eligible for sharing.
Unlike the ACA-approved health insurance plans, Liberty HealthShare and other Christian sharing ministries don’t have to accept everyone who applies. (Again, this is not insurance.) They are not required to accept people regardless of pre-existing conditions and they don’t take smokers.
That doesn’t mean you won’t be accepted if you have pre-existing conditions. Those conditions just might not be eligible for sharing right away. Also if you have a chronic health condition, or are otherwise unhealthy due to weight or some other condition, you may be asked to join their provisional program.
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 have some of those conditions all is not lost. If you’re serious about becoming healthier, you may still be eligible to join under Liberty’s provisional membership program called HealthTrac™. It’s a “health coaching” option. (Psst… We’ll talk a little bit more about that later!)
Submitting Expenses Eligible for Sharing
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, annual wellness visits are included (see the guidelines for details.) While it isn’t always necessary, that concept 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.
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 after meeting 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.
When faced with a difficult financial decision, we decided to opt out of the health insurance market completely. Of course, we still needed to find a solution to our healthcare problem. We liked what we saw with the medical cost sharing model instead.
Liberty HealthShare is not an insurance company. As a member, we don’t simply use different vocabulary; a sharing program is modeled differently. Members share medical costs based on our community guidelines.
With that said, by joining Liberty HealthShare you become exempt from the ACA mandate to purchase insurance. Liberty HealthShare is a faith-based community, and – at the time of this writing – it’s about 85,000 households strong and growing rapidly.
- Low annual unshared amounts: 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 share costs for 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: You can see any doctor you want. Liberty HealthShare lets you see any doctor of your choosing. All they ask is that you shop around and negotiate for the best rates.
- Share actual costs: Liberty HealthShare keeps their administrative costs low. A small percentage of sharing dollars are spent on administrative expenses as they examine costs up front. Your sharing dollars are used to pay for the actual medical costs incurred by others in the community.
- Health consciousness: Because Liberty HealthShare members tend to live healthy lifestyles, their costs are typically less. Liberty emphasizes spiritual principles of wellness, health and prevention. Health conscious people tend to have fewer bills, lower costs, and more rapid recoveries.
- 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.
- This is a faith-based community. These programs are faith-based organizations. You must hold similar beliefs to qualify to participate.
- You may not contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). Unfortunately, since medical cost sharing programs are not 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 is not insurance, some accountants argue you cannot deduct your monthly share amount if you own a business. There is definitely a gray area here.
- Medical cost sharing is not unlimited. 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.
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 to plan for unforseen medical expenses.
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 will be required to join the provisional HealthTrac™ program which adds an additional monthly fee. 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 are a member of 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.
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 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?