Christian healthcare sharing ministries offer an alternative to traditional health insurance plans in the US. Many families find them to be an attractive and affordable solution to their healthcare needs, including ours.
If you’re considering a healthcare sharing ministry for your family’s healthcare costs, you might be a bit confused about the different options. Today, I’ll share a straightforward review of one popular option, Christian Medi-Share. We’ll discuss how it works, how much it costs, and compare it to other popular medical cost sharing options.
Let’s take a look!
Get Started: Learn how you can save with Medi-Share here!
What is Medi-Share?
The first thing to know is that Medi-Share is not health insurance. It functions in a similar way, so that distinction can be confusing. But don’t get it twisted.
Healthcare sharing ministries differ from insurance companies in a few ways. They are not (and do not have to be) licensed by an insurance regulatory body because they are not insurance companies. Although members are committed to sharing healthcare costs, there is no guarantee that costs will be covered. Participation in healthcare sharing ministries complies with the laws outlined in the Affordable Care Act, but it does not entitle members to the tax breaks associated with traditional insurance.
That’s not to say that they don’t work. You may also be surprised to learn that this is not a new concept.
Established in 1993, Medi-Share is a healthcare sharing ministry offered through the non-profit corporation Christian Care Ministry, Inc. It’s a community of people united by Christian beliefs who have committed to sharing each other’s unexpected healthcare costs. Unlike some other medical cost-sharing programs, however, it is important to note that routine and preventative care expenses are not eligible for sharing under Medi-Share’s specific guidelines.
Although there are some drawbacks relative to insurance, the big plus is that the costs of membership tend to be significantly lower for many families who would otherwise be forced to purchase health insurance through the open market. And, because Medi-Share is a Christian community, it’s about more than just cost sharing; members also offer each other spiritual support.
How Medi-Share Works
If you’re a Christian who is looking for a more affordable solution to your healthcare needs, Medi-Share might be for you.
Before applying to Medi-Share, you should review their guidelines to make sure you meet their basic requirements. Essentially, you need to be a practicing Christian, ages 18-65, who abstains from unhealthy lifestyle choices like using tobacco and illegal drugs. Abuse of legal drugs is also prohibited.
Once you’ve reviewed the guidelines, you can submit an application online or by phone. You’ll be required to provide your medical history and lifestyle information with your application. This helps Christian Care Ministry determine eligibility.
Note that people with pre-existing medical conditions may not be accepted. If you are determined to be at risk for certain health problems, you may be able to join under the condition that you join a “health coaching program” and pay an additional monthly fee.
If your application is approved, you’ll open a sharing account and start helping fellow Christians cover the burden of unexpected medical expenses – and they’ll do the same for you.
Check out the video below to learn more.
How Much Does Medi-Share Cost?
Now that you know what Medi-Share is and how to qualify and apply, I’m sure you’re curious about the costs. There are basically two main cost categories to be aware of. Medi-Share calls these the “Annual Household Portion” and the “Monthly Share Amount.”
Annual Household Portion
Every Medi-Share member household is required to pay an alloted amount toward medical expenses themselves each year before they can submit additional expenses to be shared. This amount is called the Annual Household Portion, or AHP. Although it is not the same as an insurance deductible, you can think about it in a similar way.
The amount of each household’s AHP ranges from $500 to $10,000 (the $500 AHP is available only to singles ages 18-29). The AHP amount a household pays depends on the monthly share amount they are most comfortable with. More on that in a minute.
Monthly Share Amount
The monthly share amount is what each member household pays into their share account each month. This amount is used to fund eligible healthcare costs of other members. In turn, the monthly shares of other members will be used to cover your eligible healthcare costs.
The monthly share amount is not an insurance premium, but it might be helpful to think about it that way. The amount you pay will depend on age, the number of people in your household (single, couple, or family), and on the AHP you opt for.
As you might expect, AHP and monthly share amounts are inversely related. So, if you want to keep your monthly share amount down, you can opt for a higher AHP. If you’re more comfortable with a lower AHP, you have that option, but you will pay a higher monthly share. You just need to decide what works best for you and your family.
A Sharing Example
On the Medi-Share website, they provide a handy calculator that you can use to quickly calculate the cost of membership. Here’s how it looks:
Younger singles pay the lowest monthly shares. Monthly shares increase with age. Couples pay more than singles, and families obviously pay more than couples.
For the purposes of our example, let’s use a family of four, with the oldest member being 38 years old. Here’s what the AHP and monthly share amount options would look like:
Members who can demonstrate that they meet certain health criteria (based on blood pressure, BMI, weight, and waist measurement) may be eligible for a discount on their monthly share – that’s indicated by the “Healthy Monthly Share” column you see on the right.
For now, let’s just focus on the standard monthly share. So, for the family of four with the oldest adult being 38, we could choose an AHP ranging from $1,250 up to $10,000. This would pair with a monthly share amount of $795 down to $243.
So, let’s say we decided we were comfortable with an AHP of $2,500 per year. That means we would pay for all of our own eligible medical expenses until we reached $2,500 during that one-year period. We would also pay a monthly share of $630 per month.
Once we reached the $2,500 AHP, all future eligible medical expenses for that year would be submitted to Christian Care Ministry for sharing. This means that the monthly share paid by other members would cover our eligible expenses. It’s also important to note that there is no annual or per-incident maximum on eligible expenses.
How Do Doctor Visits Work?
Medi-Share partners with a group of providers who agree to offer healthcare services to Medi-Share members at discounted rates. This is called the “Preferred Provider Organization.” Members can search for a qualifying provider using the “search for providers” tool on the website, which looks like this:
When you visit a PPO healthcare provider, you simply present your Medi-Share member card. They will apply the appropriate discount and submit your bill to Christian Care Ministry. The company will then negotiate any further discounts that may be available.
Medi-Share then checks to see if you’ve met your AHP. If you haven’t, they will send you a bill for what you owe to your provider. If you have, they will submit your eligible expenses to be shared.
Be aware that there is a $35 fee for a doctor or hospital visit and a $135 fee for an emergency room visit. These fees apply every time, are not eligible for sharing, and do not count toward your AHP. You always pay them out of pocket.
Members may use a provider outside of the Preferred Provider Organization, but the portion of the expenses eligible for sharing will be limited to what is considered “usual and customary” based on independent norms. Translation? Part of the bill may not be covered.
Additional Medi-Share Perks
In addition to the Preferred Provider Organization, Medi-Share offers its members 24/7 access to virtual providers for free. Members can connect with providers virtually through MDLIVE to get medical advice for non-emergency medical concerns.
Medi-Share members are also eligible to receive a discount on dental, vision, and hearing care through a network of partner providers.
Comparing Medi-Share to Liberty HealthShare
Now that you know how Medi-Share works and how much it costs, you might be wondering how it compares to other healthcare sharing ministries.
Let’s take a look at how Medi-Share compares to Liberty HealthShare, another popular option. (You can check out our full review of Liberty HealthShare here).
Medi-Share and Liberty HealthShare are priced differently. Unlike Medi-Share, Liberty offers three tiers of sharing, priced accordingly. These three tiers are called “Liberty Complete” (the most comprehensive and expensive), “Liberty Plus” (the middle of the road option), and “Liberty Share” (the least expensive and least robust package).
Within each tier, there are prices for three household sizes (single, couple, and family) and three age groups (under 30, 30-65, and over 65). Monthly share amounts are greatest for older families who opt for the Liberty Complete package.
“Annual unshared amounts” (similar to Medi-Share’s Annual Household Portion) are the same within all three tiers of sharing. Singles pay $500, couples $1,000, and families $1,500. This is quite different from Medi-Share’s seven levels ranging from $500 to $10,000.
What this all means is that Medi-Share members choosing the cheapest monthly share option pay less on a monthly basis than those with Liberty. In return, they also have to accept a significantly higher Annual Household Portion.
On the other hand, Medi-Share members may pay higher fees for similar coverage. A family with the oldest adult aged 35 will pay $795 a month in monthly shares plus $1,250 for their Annual Household Portion as Medi-Share members. As Liberty HealthShare Liberty Complete members, the same family would pay $449 a month plus a $1,500 annual unshared amount. Unlike Medi-Share, under Liberty, annual wellness visits are also included.
Maximum Sharing Amounts
Medi-Share does not have an annual, per-incident, per-person, or per-lifetime sharing cap. Liberty does. This means that although Medi-Share members are sometimes paying higher fees, they’re also eligible to have higher value expenses shared.
For Liberty Complete members, the per-incident sharing maximum is one million dollars – and that’s per member of the household. Liberty Plus offers a $125,000 per-incident maximum, and Liberty Share allows 70% of $125,000 per incident.
In practical terms, I’m not sure how meaningful a million dollar per-incident maximum is. There are certainly situations where healthcare costs could exceed that, but those instances are relatively rare.
Who Can Join?
Anyone from any Christian denomination who believes in God may apply to and join Liberty HealthShare.
While Medi-Share membership is not limited to specific denominations, they have a more robust list of beliefs that members must adhere to. They also note on their website that a church leader may be interviewed to verify a member’s Christian testimony.
Seniors (those aged 65 and older) are not eligible to join Medi-Share, although they are eligible for a separate program called Senior Assist. Existing members who turn 65 may transition to Senior Assist or remain with Medi-Share, depending on their Medicare coverage. Seniors are welcome to join Liberty HealthShare, and there is a pricing category for that age group.
Like we talked about above, Medi-Share has a network of preferred providers they partner with to offer discounted care to its members. Members can use other providers, but benefits may be reduced. Liberty has no such network; members can use any provider they like. They just need to present their membership card and have their provider send the bill directly to Liberty, who will take it from there. In this sense, Liberty offers its members more flexibility.
Pros and Cons of Medi-Share
- A more affordable alternative to traditional health insurance plans
- Compliant with the Individual Mandate outlined in the Affordable Care Act (in effect for 2018)
- A community of like-minded people who share costs and offer spiritual support
- No cap on expenses eligible for sharing
- Discounts on vision, dental, and hearing care
- Free 24/7 access to virtual providers through MDLIVE
- A network of partner healthcare providers who offer discounts to Medi-Share members
- People who meet certain health criteria may be eligible for a discount on monthly share amounts
- Routine and preventative care expenses are not eligible for sharing
- People with pre-existing medical conditions, unhealthy lifestyles, or non-Christian lifestyles may not be accepted
- People who cannot demonstrate Christian testimony may not be accepted
- Availability of Preferred Provider Organization providers may be limited in some areas
- Treatment of medical conditions associated with a non-Christian lifestyle are not eligible for sharing (this may be a pro, depending on your perspective)
- Mental health care services are not eligible for sharing
- Participation does not entitle members to the tax breaks membership in health insurance plans does
What Users Say
Medi-Share currently features five detailed member review videos on their website. They are quite personal and overwhelmingly positive. Here’s one of them:
Of course, it’s worth looking outside the Medi-Share website to see what members think of the service.
Based on 16 reviews, the Better Business Bureau has assigned Christian Care Ministry with 3 out of 5 stars. I always caution people to take these types of reviews with a grain of salt, however, as many complaints are often a misunderstanding of the sharing guidelines. With that said, when making a decision like this, it is important to do your due diligence.
Medi-Share Review: The Final Word
You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons for your personal situation, but our view is that healthcare sharing ministries are an attractive and relatively affordable option for Christian families looking for ways to manage their healthcare costs.
If avoiding a cap on eligible medical expenses is important to you, you’ll definitely want to consider Medi-Share. It may be an especially attractive option if their Preferred Provider Organization is well represented in your area. Overall, we believe Medi-Share is definitely worth exploring as a way to handle unexpected healthcare costs.
For more information, you can get started with Medi-Share here.
Do you have experience with Medi-Share? Tell us about it in the comments below.