If you are looking for an alternative to insurance, a health share might be right for you. This post offers a comprehensive health share plan comparison, advice on what you should know before joining a health share, and my experience over the past five years.
After our second son, Oliver, was born, our income shifted, and we no longer were able to get “affordable” health care through the ACA.
While I’m grateful for the financial blessings we’ve had over the past five years, it’s been frustrating to be presented with health care options that are not only expensive – but don’t really cover much of anything.
Around that time, as I was looking into our options, I came across something called a “Christian Health Share”. It seemed a little…fake? to me at the time, so I proceeded with caution as I started investigating this option.
I asked friends and family, and a few people had positive things to say about these organizations. Because the costs seemed so much lower – and, in the long run, we would pay less, I decided to do it.
It took awhile to find the right health share, but we’ve been using one since 2016. I originally wrote this post years ago, but I’ve now updated it with more current information. We’ve had a great experience – for the most part – and I think it’s an awesome option for many people.
I hope that this post will answer many of the questions I get on a regular basis. Health shares aren’t for everyone, but they can be a fantastic option.
Table of contents
- What is a Health Share?
- Common Misconceptions
- Who should sign up for a health share?
- A Few Things to Keep in Mind About Health Shares
- Health Share Comparison Chart
- Christian Healthcare Ministries Review
- Liberty Health Share Review
- Health Shares for Latter-Day Saints
- Direct Pay Clinics
- FAQs about Health Care Share Plans
- More Health Related Posts:
What is a Health Share?
A health share is an alternative to health care. You pay a membership fee – typically it is based on an individual, a couple, or a family price – and those membership fees go toward paying medical bills for other people in the organization.
They are typically faith-based organizations and have certain requirements to join.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about health shares. I think it’s a foreign idea to a lot of people, and it makes it seem a little scary. It’s important to know exactly what you are getting into before signing up.
It’s a scam – I totally understand this worry! I thought maybe it was a scam, too. While some health shares are better than others, and there are some that I certainly wouldn’t sign up for – these aren’t a scam. They are a completely legitimate way to pay for health care.
It’s a new thing – health shares have been running for about 40 years! There are new ones popping up, but it’s not a new thing.
It’s irresponsible – I’ve been told this a few times. People hear that you are uninsured and automatically think you’re a chump who isn’t responsible. When I was complaining about the cost of an anesthesia bill (not because I didn’t think it would be covered; just because it was ridiculous), I had someone say that I should have been more responsible before getting pregnant?
They undermine health care – I actually think that these work much better than most things in the health care system. We have had medical providers tell us how much easier they are to work with than with traditional health insurance.
Who should sign up for a health share?
These aren’t for everyone. If you are able to get affordable health care that provides good coverage – I would recommend you do that. While there is a lot more acceptance of health shares in recent years, it can be a major headache.
With that said, there are many people who do fall into that category but still opt for a health share, simply because they like the way it works better!
I think people who are ideal for health shares are:
- Self-employed people (especially if they make enough money to not qualify for a government subsidy)
- People who are generally healthy – if you have an active pre-existing condition that requires a lot of care and medication, this may not be the best option for you
- People who have the means of paying for medical bills up front if they have to while they want for reimbursement (we have gotten a lot of airline points by putting things on our credit card – don’t worry, though. We paid it off every month!)
- People who don’t love how health insurance is run and want something that feels less greedy or annoying
- People who don’t mind the headache of negotiating medical bills and dealing with the finance department
A Few Things to Keep in Mind About Health Shares
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you are looking at health shares and trying to determine which one is best for you. Many of these have unique features to consider that may be better for one person/family over another.
- This is not insurance (we think it’s better in the long run, though it can be complicated). You are considered a self-pay patient, and it can be annoying at times. We’ve had some health care providers act very negatively toward us (though it’s gotten better in recent years)
- Some organizations require bills are submitted to them; others have you pay the bill and negotiate discounts and have it submitted
- Some will negotiate bills for you
- The length of time for payment/reimbursement can vary
- Emergency transportation varies. For instance, with CHM, they will only pay for it from medical center to medical center – not site of the incident (so if you got in a car accident and had to be airlifted, you’d be left with a mighty hefty bill)
- Not all will cover alternative treatments
- Most don’t cover mental health (but a few do)
- Pay attention to the pre-existing condition clauses, what will be covered, etc. Some will cover expenses related to an active pre-existing condition in the first year, others will not.
- Make sure to be aware of what your personal responsibility is. Some of these organizations will cover
- Some of these organizations will give you a discount for being part of a Direct Pay Clinic (DPC). We have been using one of these for years, and it’s been such a fantastic experience. They are gaining popularity, so I highly recommend signing up for one if there’s one in your area.
- Don’t be surprised if financial departments give you a hard time or insist you pay everything for a huge procedure up front. This happens more often than not. We have a lot of people act like we are insane for not having “real” insurance – but lately, we’ve had a lot of providers tell us how much better health shares are.
Health Share Comparison Chart
- MS – MediShare
- CHM – Christian Healthcare Ministries
- LHS – Liberty Health Shares
- SM – Samaritan Ministries
- ZHS – Zion Health Share
- SD – Solidarity
- AL – Altrua
- KH – Knew Health
You can scroll through this chart using your arrow key or the scroll bar at the bottom of the chart!
|ACA Exempt||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No, see Note *1|
|Cost||*See Note 1||*See Note 2||*See Note 3||*See Note 1||*See Note 2||See Annual Fee||*See Note 3||*Starts at $169/month but varies|
|Lifetime Limit||No||Max of $125k per qualifying illness||No||No||No||No||1,000,000||No|
|Limit per incident||?||?||*See Note 2||*See Note 2||3 incidents per household per year||*See Note 3||?||?|
|Personal Responsibility per incident/year||?||Depends on gold, silver, bronze program||Depends on program||Depends on program||IAU then 100% of eligible things are covered||*See Note 3||?||*See Note 7|
|Annual Fee||Annual Household Portion (which varies)||None||Annual Unshared Amount (AUA)which varies||AUA + percent of incident||*IAU, see Note 2||AUASingle: $750Couple:$1500Family: $2500||*See Note 3||*Varies, See Note 6|
|Pre-exisiting Condtions||Covers some*See Note 4||*See Note 3||Not covered during the first year||*See Note 3||Not covered For first year||Not covered for first year||*See Note 4||*Not covered for the first year, see Note 2|
|Statement of Faith Requirement||*See Note 3||*See Note 1||*See Note 1||*See Note 4||No but *see Note 1||*See Note 1||*See Note 1||*See Note 3|
|Bill Submission||?||*See Note 4||*See Note 4||?||Submit within 6 months||*See Note 4||?||*See Note 5|
|Maternity Covered||*See Note 2||Covered for gold members after$500||Covered if a member 1 yr prior to conception||*Yes with stipulat-ions, see Note 5||Yes||Yes||Yes, for gold and silver members||Yes, after a year|
|Hospital Covered||$35 per visit ($200 for ER)||Depends on cost||Yes||Yes||*See Note 3||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Preventative Care Included||Not covered||Not covered||Covered||Not covered||*Annual Wellness Visits are, see note 4||?||For women over 40 and men over 50, yes||Some|
|Mental Health||Not covered||Not covered||Not covered||Not covered||No but an add on will be available starting Jan ‘21||Yes||Not covered||Not covered|
|Alternative Care||Not covered||?||Covered||Some *See Note 6||Yes||Some||After the 1st year, yes||No|
|Emergency Transportation||Depends,See Note 5||Covered||Covered||Covered||Depends, see note 5||Yes||*Depends, see Note 2||Depends see Note 4|
|DPC Reimbursement||?||*See Note 5||Yes||*See Note 6||*See note 6||*See Note 2||?||?|
|Referral Program||Refer a friend for $100||“Bring-a-Friend” (free month for every referral)||$100 Visa gift card for referring a friend||$100 credit off monthly cost for each house-hold that joins||None||$100 Tango gift card for each member who signs up and pays for 2 months||Yes, for each household that joins you receive a credit (which varies)||None|
- Cost varies depending on “household size, age, marital status, state, and Annual Household Portion.”
- “Maternity is eligible for sharing, however, there are certain conditions and limitations, depending on which AHP level you choose. Maternity sharing is not available at the $1,000 or $1,750 AHP level, and maternity sharing is limited to $125,000 per pregnancy event.”
- Statement of Faith: https://mychristiancare.org/our-ministry/who-we-are/Statement-of-Faith/
- Pre-existing Conditions: https://www.medishare.com/blog/how-does-medi-share-work-with-pre-existing-conditions
- Emergency Transportation: “Ambulance or other medical transport services may be eligible for sharing when medically necessary or required for transportation between facilities. Pre-eligibility review is recommended for non-emergency medical transport.”
Christian Healthcare Ministries Notes
- Link to Statement of Faith: https://www.chministries.org/resources/chm-guidelines/
- Gold: $172 per unit, per month//Silver:$118 per unit, per month//Bronze: $78 per unit, per month
- Rules on Pre-existing Conditions: https://www.chministries.org/resources/chm-guidelines/pre-existing-conditions/
- Bill Submission Process: https://www.chministries.org/resources/step-by-step-guide-for-submitting-bills/
- See page 21 for reimbursement: https://www.chministries.org/media/1039/chmguidelines.pdf
Liberty Health Share
- Statement of Faith: https://libertyhealthshare.org/do-i-qualify#:~:text=Accept%20Our%20Shared%20Beliefs,his%20or%20her%20own%20way.
- Limit per incident:
- Liberty Select shares up to $500,000 per incident on eligible medical expenses
- Liberty Share shares up to 70% up to 125,000 per incident on eligible medical expenses
- Liberty Plus shares up to $125,000 per incident on eligible medical expenses
- Liberty Complete shares up to $1,000,000 per incident on eligible medical expenses
- Cost per program: https://libertyhealthshare.org/explore-our-programs
- DPC: https://libertyhealthshare.org/blog/getting-the-most-from-your-dpc
- Cost per month: https://samaritanministries.org/given/cost
- Cost per program: https://samaritanministries.org/given
- Pre-existing conditions: https://samaritanministries.org/resources/classic-basic-guidelines
- Statement of faith: https://samaritanministries.org/resources/classic-basic-guidelines
- Maternity: https://samaritanministries.org/resources/classic-basic-guidelines
- DPC, see p. 48: https://samaritanministries.org/uploads/documents/SMI-ClassicBasic-Guidelines-July2020.pdf
Zion Health Share
- Principles of Membership: https://zionhealth.org/membership-guidelines/#ZION-HEALTH-PRINCIPLES-OF-MEMBERSHIP
- Cost of programs: https://zionhealth.org/
- Hospitalization: “Shareable at semi-private room rate or if a licensed medical provider prescribes ICU or quarantine.”
- Preventative Care: https://zionhealth.org/annual-wellness-visit/
- Ambulance: “Shareable as part of a need whenever medically needed or due to severity, proximity and circumstances associated with a specific illness or injury.”
- DPC: https://zionhealth.org/direct-primary-care/
- Guidelines to live by (see section III): https://www.solidarityhealthshare.org/sharing-guidelines/
- DPC: “Direct Primary Care monthly fees are eligible for Sharing up to 50% of the Annual Unshared Amount prorated over ten (10) months.”
- Limitations per program (see section IV:) https://www.solidarityhealthshare.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Solidarity-Sharing-Guidelines-Version-10.0_PDF.pdf
- Bill Submission: “To submit a bill, login into your Member Snapshot and click on the “Submit Need” button. Fill out all the information on the form and attach your itemized bill or itemized proof of payment for sharing. Once the form is submitted, you will receive a confirmation email. Please only submit one bill or reimbursement per form request.”
- Statement of Standards: https://altruahealthshare.org/how-it-works/statement-of-standards/
- Ambulance: Maximum of $3000 per incident; 1st then 2nd MRAs apply
- Cost per program:
- GOLD MEMBERSHIP:
- Standard: $500 MRA per person per year & 25%* of the next $10,000 Advantage: $3,000 MRA per person per year
- SILVER MEMBERSHIP
- Standard: $1,000 MRA per person per year & 25%* of the next $10,000 Advantage: $3,500 MRA per person per year
- BRONZE MEMBERSHIP
- Standard: $1,500 MRA per person per year & 25% of the next $10,000
- Advantage $4,000 MRA* per person per year
- GOLD MEMBERSHIP:
- “Any need for which there was a pre-existing condition 24 months prior to member’s effective date, are ineligible for the first 24-months of membership. This does not apply to office visit/urgent care.”
- ACA exempt: “There is no longer a fine for not having health insurance under the Affordable Care Act(ACA). You don’t need an exemption in order to avoid the penalty. BUT “There are some states in the US which have state-level mandates and associated tax penalties for not having qualified insurance coverage. Each Member will need to understand their state level requirements, any associated penalties, and make the decision that is best for their individual case.”
- Pre-existing conditions: Some pre existing health conditions will have limitations on sharing while others can become partially eligible for sharing after the first year on an incremental scale.
- Statements (see page 15): https://knewhealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Sedera-ACCESS-Guidelines-20200901.pdf
- Ambulance: “Shareable as part of a Need whenever medically indicated by a licensed medical doctor, and/or whenever practical due to the severity, proximity and circumstances associated with a specific illness or injury. Not shareable for convenience purposes only”
- Submission (see page 36): https://knewhealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Sedera-ACCESS-Guidelines-20200901.pdf
- Cost Calculator: https://knewhealth.com/knew-health-cost-calculator/
- Sharing Limitations: “Sharing is limited to the total number of shares made available by the collective participants. No single Need may consume more than one third of the total number of shares available in order to assure ad
Christian Healthcare Ministries Review
We have been with Christian Healthcare Ministries for quite a few years now. We’ve had two surgeries, one pregnancy and delivery, and one three night hospital stay – and all of these expenses were shared in full.
Through all of it, they’ve been very helpful and kind. Their reimbursement ranges from 70-120 days, depending on demand. However, in a few instances, I’ve had to have immediate things paid in order to get a large discount, so they rushed the payment.
You can read details of our experiences below:
- Christian Healthcare Ministries Review: Our Experience with Surgery
- How My Pregnancy & Delivery Will Cost Me $0 (With No Insurance)
- No sharing limit per incident with Brother’s Keeper (this is basically catastrophic coverage)
- There is help for pre-existing conditions
- Maternity offerings are very generous. You are welcome to use any OBGYN or legal midwife that you’d like. You can also have home birth expenses covered.
- The most you have to pay is for three “units” – so I could have five more kids, and they would only count as one (not that I’m planning on having five more kids)
- Good customer service – I get responses right away
- If you negotiate a bill down, that goes toward how much you have to pay out-of-pocket. For instance, if my bill was $1000, and I negotiated it down to $500, that $500 would be taken from the $400 I would initially have to pay, and I wouldn’t have to pay anything.
- If you have some kind of bill that is not eligible for sharing (such as for an existing condition), they do have a Prayer Page where you can submit this bill. People can donate to this (which is tax-deductible) to help pay for other’s bills that aren’t covered.
- Expenses for medical equipment that is prescribed can be shared for up to $4,000.
- Even though it takes a while to get reimbursement, if there is a large bill that has to be paid right away
- No preventative care – you need to pay for well-child checks, vaccines, mammograms, colonoscopies, etc. out of pocket.
- I don’t love the process for submitting bills. I wish I could just give my card to the billing people at the hospital and ask them to send the bill to CHM. Instead, I have to say I’m self-pay and either pay everything myself or setup a payment plan while I submit the bill to CHM. We’ve had people get confused at what we are doing – for instance, recently, Oliver was at the ER for a very high fever. The billing lady was confused and put on our chart that we needed financial assistance, and that resulted in us never getting any bill and a “hold” was placed on our account.
- It can take a while to get your bills processed and reimbursed. You will likely have to set up a payment plan with the billing department of the doctor’s office or hospital as you wait for reimbursement.
- They do not share alternative treatments, such as chiropractic.
Make sure to sign up here if CHM sounds like a good option for you and/or your family.
Liberty Health Share Review
As I said earlier, we originally signed up for Liberty Health Share. I loved the idea of it. However, I was disappointed with it during the few months I was with it.
First off, for the first year, there is no help for anything related to pre-exisiting conditions. I had read comment threads from people who were denied coverage because, even though they didn’t know they had a condition when they joined, it was deemed pre-exisiting because it may have existed before they joined (even if they were unaware).
I also read about people having issues getting bills paid.
I felt like the people I communicated with were not friendly or helpful. I had trouble getting anyone to even respond.
However, I do have a few friends that use and love it. There are some great benefits to it, such as:
- Preventative care is covered (including a routine mammogram and colonoscopy)
- Medical transportation is covered from the event of an incident
- There is a “deductible” of sorts – $500 for one unit, $1000 for two units, and $1500 for three units. Once you hit that amount for your plan, each incident doesn’t have to meet a certain amount before they will pay.
- They have a health coaching option for people who are considered unhealthy. You do have to pay extra (and it is required for certain people), however, I’ve heard that it can be really helpful in helping you get health conditions under control.
- They do cover certain alternative treatments, such as chiropractic when deemed necessary.
- Very broad faith/lifestyle requirements. I feel this is a great option for people of all belief systems.
UPDATE 2020: I personally wouldn’t recommend this one after seeing a lot of people go almost a year without being reimbursed and just getting the run around.
Health Shares for Latter-Day Saints
As you may or may not know, we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not all of these organizations are willing to allow members of our church join their health shares.
We are part of Christian Healthcare Ministries. When we signed up, they had a very simple statement of faith that we agreed to, and they basically said that you have to agree by Biblical Principals. Done.
However, in 2020, they’ve quietly added a new faith statement, which is at the very end of their membership guideline book (I dug into the archives of the website just to make sure I wasn’t crazy – I had combed over the website pretty carefully before signing up). It has a few things I don’t necessarily believe, though I believe in their right to believe them. My friend reached out to them about this (and if Latter-day Saints are still allowed to join), and she was told as long as we agree to live by Biblical Principals, then we are fine.
Beyond CHM, other Health Shares that are accepting of Latter-day Saints include:
Of course, you should always discuss with them if you have any questions about you joining!
Direct Pay Clinics
Something that has expanded in recent years is the popularity of Direct Pay Clinics.
Essentially, doctors and other medical professionals who have started these clinics have you pay a membership fee each month. This typically includes unlimited office visits, discounted prescriptions and medical tests, among other benefits.
These work really with with Health Shares, because these practices typically don’t bill insurance. A lot of health shares are even offering a discount if you use a Direct Pay Clinic!
We have been going to a DPC for years. We have been to two different practices, and they have both been the best doctor experience we have ever had. These practices are very small – typically it’s just the doctor and one or two other employees – and it allows for much more time with your care.
I can’t sing their praises enough!
FAQs about Health Care Share Plans
This is based on Christian Healthcare Ministries, but most share groups have similar rules.
Is it insurance?
No, it is not considered insurance.
Is it eligible under the ACA?
All of the companies I listed above are eligible to give you an exemption from the ACA. Here is information on how to make sure you get your exemption.
Can HSAs be used?
At this time, no.
Is it tax-deductible?
Monthly shares are not tax-deductible. However, if you contribute a donation beyond your monthly share, that is considered tax-deductible.
Can it be used with Medicare?
All the ones I looked at can be, but there are different rules on how it is done. Consult with the organization if you are with Medicare.
Where does the money go?
It goes directly to other members! There are administration fees with most organizations, but those are very minimal. The share that you pay each month goes directly toward paying another member’s medical bills.
Can you join anytime?
Yes! There is no open enrollment period. I joined starting February 1st, and I canceled my ACA plan right after.
Will your bills be paid?
This was one concern of mine – what if they ran out of money or refused to pay something that was eligible? From my research, eligible needs are always paid. Christian Healthcare Ministries has a very good track record, and if you are submitting something that is eligible, it will be paid.
How does self-pay work?
By participating in a health care share plan, you are considered self-pay. How you submit bills varies depending on the program. With Christian Healthcare Ministries, you are given a card that you present at the doctor’s office. CHM has a great page about exactly what you need to do to submit a bill and get reimbursed. They also have people to help you negotiate a discount, which is awesome.
I found this book called The Self-Pay Patient, and I think it looks very helpful in helping people navigate the world of self-pay!
More Health Related Posts:
- What To Do When You Can’t Afford Insurance
- 7 Tips for Saving on Prescriptions as a Self-Pay Patient
- 5 Things to Know When Your Child is Diagnosed With Asthma
- Endometriosis Pain: How Several Women Describe It
- Endometriosis Surgery: My Experience with Excision Surgery
- Baby Hospitalized with RSV: What I Wish I Knew Before it Happened
- RSV in Babies: What All Parents Should Know