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Health Care Sharing: Is it Insurance and Will My Medical Needs Really Be Met?

What really is health care sharing and can I trust it?
An emergency sign points to the entrance to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California, U.S. March 23, 2017.
An emergency sign points to the entrance to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California, U.S. March 23, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake)

From the earliest days of health care sharing ministries, objections to the methods of these ministries have been raised that are based on inaccuracies and misunderstandings. As the health care landscape changes rapidly, the following are doses of reality that bust these myths. Below of just five myths about health care sharing; read The Christian Post for the five additional myths in the near future.

Myth #1: Medical providers won't treat me if I don't have insurance.

Reality: This myth is disproven every month as members of just one organization, Samaritan Ministries International, share more than $25 million in medical needs each month. That sharing wouldn't happen if there weren't bills to submit. In other words, the fact that needs have been submitted means that members went to doctors or other health care providers, were treated and received bills, which they then submitted for sharing.

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When a health care provider asks about a member's insurance, the member typically tells them they are "cash-pay" or that they are members of a health care sharing ministry (HCSM). The member is then billed directly and submits the statements to their health care sharing ministry.

Because the provider avoids insurance paperwork and, in most cases, gets their money more quickly, many providers come to appreciate, and even prefer, health care sharing members.

Not only are health care sharing members treated despite not having insurance, but because of how need sharing works, Samaritan members actually have much more freedom to choose their medical providers. There are no "preferred providers" or other such restrictions. Samaritan will share needs that meet the ministry's Guidelines no matter where in the world—literally—treatment was given.

Myth #2: Health care sharing ministries are like health insurance.

Reality: Because Samaritan Ministries, like other health care sharing ministries, is not health insurance, health care sharing does not work like health insurance works.

Rather than pay a premium to a company, members send monthly shares directly to other member families who have submitted needs that qualify for sharing. In other words, health care sharing ministries are arrangements in which Christians assist one another with medical expenses through voluntary giving.

Here are a few other ways in which health care sharing is unlike insurance:

  • An insurance company provides individuals a contract spelling out its maximum legal obligation to pay some portion of medical bills depending on whether patients visited preferred providers and all the insurer's procedures were followed. Health care sharing involves a ministry where God gives through His people to abundantly provide for all needs.
  • Samaritan does not assess applicants' health risks, because neither the ministry nor the members are assuming financial liability for any other member's risk.
  • Health care sharing ministries are not licensed or registered by any insurance board or department, because they are not practicing the business of insurance.
  • Samaritan is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 religious organization, meaning no shareholders or investors need to be satisfied.

For the above reasons, 30 states have laws clarifying that HCSMs are not providing health insurance and not subject to health insurance requirements—requirements that would undermine their ministry approach.

Perhaps most importantly, unlike health insurance, the focus of Samaritan Ministries' need sharing is not on what members can receive financially if they have a need in the future, but on how members can help others with the needs they have right now (Acts 20:35). HCSM members try to build authentic Christian community through prayer, encouragement and support.

Security is not in some legal contract or reserve fund, but rather in the provision of the Lord God and in the integrity and good will of fellow members of the Body of Christ.

HCSMs have handled many "big needs" over the years, from open heart surgery to long-term bouts of cancer treatment. Samaritan Ministries uses a process it calls pro-rating to keep the amount of needs in line with the share money available.

Additionally, some needs actually get spread out over a longer time, such as cancer treatment, and so aren't billed all at once. For instance, a $500,000 need stemming from cancer may end up being billed in increments as treatments proceed, meaning the amount is also shared in increments. Finally, negotiations on bill amounts can also help reduce larger needs, because providers are getting their money in cash soon after a treatment is billed, and initial hospital invoice amounts are frequently excessive.

Myth #4: Not enough people will send money to a member with a need, so the need won't be met.

This myth is sometimes raised because of a mistaken assumption that Samaritan Ministries and other HCSMs simply let people know a member has a need and then wait to see who responds.

Reality: Samaritan actually has an organized method of assigning the appropriate amount of shares for each need. For example, every month, each member receives a "share slip" telling them about another member's need that has been assigned and giving an address to send their share to. The member with the need is sent a checklist to know who is supposed to send them shares. That member then sends the checklist back to Samaritan. If any member has failed to send their share, steps are taken to see that the missing share is made up.

Myth #5: Members of health care sharing ministries contribute to the rising cost of health care through cost shifting.

Reality: HCSM members share hundreds of millions of dollars per year in health care expenses among nearly 1 million individuals in all 50 states. While studies show that uninsured people are typically charged more than what insurance companies pay for the same services, HCSM members' bills are paid in a timely manner with shares that are lower than typical insurance premiums. Samaritan members help meet the health care needs of those financially less well off, as their members' median income is significantly below that of the U.S. population, and do so without depending on funding or grants from government sources.

Watch the Christian Post for the next five myths about health care sharing, and the facts that highlight the reality about Christians "bearing one another's burdens," as the Bible instructs in Galatians 6:2.

Michael Miller is a communications specialist at Samaritan Ministries International. Before arriving at Samaritan, he worked at the Peoria Journal Star for 29 years.

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