Health Care Without Insurance – Medi-Share

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Cheaper alternatives to traditional health insurance are out there, if you know where to look. Example? Cost-sharing arrangements managed by Christian groups.

In spite of this year’s health reform, insurance costs continue to rise. According to a study from Hewitt Associates, both employee health care coverage costs and out-of-pocket expenses are expected to grow by more than 12 percent in 2011.

To help meet the challenge, we’ve been exploring innovative ways to trim insurance costs.  Last month we did a story on a concept called Direct Primary Care: see Health Care Without Insurance – $50 a Month? Today we’re looking into another way to get help with medical bills without insurance by examining a program called Medi-Share.

Check out the news story Stacy recently shot, then meet me on the other side for more.

As noted in Stacy’s news story, Medi-Share isn’t insurance. The program is run by Christian Care Ministry and according to the group, saves members an average of $945 per year over a standard insurance policy. Instead of insurance, members collectively pay each other’s medical expenses. The concept has been exempted from the health insurance mandate passed this year, so members won’t be required to buy traditional insurance.  As with regular health insurance, though, there are plenty of terms and conditions – albeit quite different from those you’d find in a traditional health insurance plan. For example, check out the eligibility requirements from the Medishare website

Each adult must:

  • Have a verifiable Christian testimony indicating a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and profess the Statement of Faith
  • Attend a fellowship of believers, regularly and actively support that ministry, and live under the discipline of that body
  • Share the conviction that believers are to bear one another’s burdens according to Galatians 6:2
  • Believe the biblical doctrine that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and therefore are to be kept pure
  • Must not engage in sex outside of traditional Christian marriage
  • Cannot use tobacco or illegal drugs in any form, or abuse legal drugs or alcohol
  • Be a U.S citizen (those serving abroad as missionaries may qualify) or a permanent resident with a visa or green card and Social Security number who lives full time in the United States

There are also exclusions that you’d expect to find in more traditional insurance policies, such as excluding pre-existing conditions, as well as some you might not expect, such an excluding treatment of HIV/AIDS unless contracted from transfusions, verifiable rape reported to law enforcement authorities or contracted in the practice of a health care profession.

Visit the Medi-Share website to learn more about them, or check out their largest competitor, Samaritan Ministries.

But remember that cost-sharing isn’t insurance, and therefore might not offer the same legal protections that you’d expect from regulated insurance companies. From the National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s website:

Non-Licensed Risk-Sharing Plans – You may receive offers to join a group or association that will take your monthly payments, put them in a savings account (or trust) with other participants’ money, and then help pay some of your health care costs, as needed. Such arrangements are not insurance and the participants do not have the protections available to purchasers of licensed insurance plans. State insurance regulators strongly recommend that you thoroughly investigate such plans before joining.

Other ways to save on health insurance

If you’re not willing or able to check go with a cost-sharing plan, check out other ideas to bring your health insurance costs down:

1. Learn about health care reform. Many people don’t know the details about this year’s health care reform, something we’ve spent a lot of time writing about. While some aspects of the legislation won’t take effect for years, others are already here. For instance, did you know that with new health insurance plans, you no longer have to fork over for co-payments or deductibles on preventive care? That includes many vaccinations and standard testing procedures. It’s also possible to keep kids on your policy longer. Learn more about these and other changes by reading our stories:
How Health Care Reform Will Affect You
Health Care Reform: 8 Positive Changes
September 23, 2010 – A Big Day for Healthcare Reform
3 Tips for Healthy Finances if you Get Sick
2. Shop around. You won’t find the best deals on premiums that fit your needs if you don’t look. On top of that, your existing plan might not be giving you all the benefits of this year’s health legislation, many of which only affect new policies. Two tools to get you started ferreting out a better plan are our insurance search and the government’s rate comparison helper.
3. Cut out the middle man. In the same way health care reform allows for programs like Medi-Share, it encourages Direct Primary Care practices to compete with insurers. Visiting one of these practices is like having a gym membership: you pay a doctor or medical group a low monthly fee for access instead of paying insurers. As mentioned at the top of this post, check out Health Care Without Insurance – $50/Month?
4. Enroll in an FSA program at work. Many big companies and government organizations offer a benefit called the flexible spending account. It works like this: You set a certain portion of your paycheck to be automatically deducted each week, before taxes. You can then designate ways to spend that money – like on health care-related expenses, for instance. As with any of these options, there are both pros and cons. Soon you won’t be able to buy over-the-counter medications with FSAs, and if you don’t spend the money in your FSA account every calendar year, you lose it. Read more about FSAs in our story, How to Flex Your Financial Muscle With FSAs.
5. Other types of health-related expenses. We’ve recently done stories regarding other types of health-related issues: check out 10 Tips to Find Long-Term Care Insurance and How to Get Help Paying for Cancer Treatment.
Bottom line? Carefully consider your needs and shop smart, and you’ll definitely find ways to cut your costs on health insurance. For even more ideas to save, check out 4 Reasons You Should Give Your Health Insurances a Checkup, Stat.

Stacy Johnson

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