Health-sharing ministries are becoming more and more popular with the rising costs of insurance – but they can feel a little bit risky. We have been with Christian Healthcare Ministries for almost three years. In this post, we share our recent experience with two surgeries and whether or not it’s the right decision for you.
Health Care Sharing Ministries Review
Just under years ago, we quit insurance.
After realizing we would get no subsidy from the Affordable Care Act – and the insurance plans we were looking at being close to $2000 a month with a not so great deductible….we knew we had to find something different.
We researched health shares for months, and in the end, we settled with Christian Healthcare Ministries.
Fortunately, in the last almost three years, we haven’t actually had to use them. We go to a physician who has a direct pay clinic (which we pay $110 a month for), and while we did have one ER visit, the total cost ended up being less than the $400 “deductible” that CHM requires.
Well, this year was the year where we would find out how well CHM would work for us, as our family experienced not one but TWO surgeries. Oliver had to have his adenoids removed and tubes placed:
And I ended up have laparoscopic surgery to diagnose and excise endometriosis.
It was the first time I was going to end up having to negotiate bills, convince medical providers that they would actually get paid, and, most importantly, submit our bills to Christian Healthcare Ministries for reimbursement.
To say I was nervous was an understatement. If somehow it all fell through, we would end up with tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills.
I will admit at times that I thought, “Insurance would be easier!” but when all was said and done, I am SO grateful that we’ve had Christian Healthcare Ministries as opposed to traditional insurance.
Throughout the entire process for both surgeries, CHM has been professional, accommodating, and quick to respond – which I can say is not very common when it comes to handling medical bills.
With all that said, I wanted to share an in-depth review of our experience with Christian Healthcare Ministries – specifically when it came to the two surgeries we had done. I can honestly say now that going with CHM is one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Christian Healthcare Ministries Cost
First off, I wanted to share how much we pay per month for Christian Healthcare Ministries.
We have chosen to go with their Gold Plan, which is $150 a month per person. However, after the third member of the family, you do not pay anything else. They have a Silver and Bronze plan – and you can compare the costs and benefits here.
So for our family of four, we pay $450 a month. Even if we had 10 more children, that’s all we would pay. This is how insurance used to work (thankfully for my parents who had six kids at home at one point!).
We also pay a quarterly gift of, I think, $75 to be a part of the “Brother’s Keeper” program, which essentially gives you unlimited sharing on incidents (instead of the $125,000). If you on the Silver and Bronze plan, it increases the amount by $100,000 per unit that is on the account and pays for Brother’s Keeper (up to 1 million).
Although optional, I try and donate a small, tax-deductible donation to the “Prayer Page” each month. This goes to help people pay bills that aren’t covered by CHM (typically due to pre-existing conditions).
CHM doesn’t require any pre-approval before you submit a bill for surgery. However, I felt like it was a good idea just to check that everything looked okay before I scheduled my surgery. Surgery is expensive, and if for some reason they wouldn’t cover it (not eligible under their sharing guidelines, it’s a pre-exisiting condition, etc), that’s something you would want to know up front.
With both of the surgeries we had this year, the hospital required some kind of payment upfront for being a self-pay patient. The hospital where Oliver had this surgery required around $3000 and the hospital I had surgery at actually required ALL of the amounts up front. They offered a 60% discount – but it was still over $16,000, which is a lot of money just to hand over.
We were able to work with CHM to make these payments. When you are able to secure a large discount up front that will lower the costs substantially, CHM will sometimes be able to expedite payment. However, you need to give them plenty of notice.
Because of this, make sure you know what your medical provider or hospital requires up front. You need to make CHM aware immediately of any discounts that would disappear if you don’t pay in a certain period of time. And don’t assume they will/have to pay it – expediting payment is decided on a case by case payment.
Working with Medical Providers
This is, by far, the most frustrating part. Whenever I mention we use a Christian Health Share, they always know what I’m talking about…but then they treat me like I’m never actually going to pay them. Or they get confused about how it works.
We went to an ER once, and I swear, as soon as they heard we were “self-pay”, they did everything they could to push us out of the door as quickly as possible. Even as I tried to explain to them what we did. Anyways.
The key is to make sure you talk to the financial department as soon as possible. You need to know what they require up front. If they allow for payment plans. What discounts you can get.
I’ve found that the discounts vary substantially. Many will start with a super low 10% off – while others will start with something as high as 60% off. I will say, always negotiate if it’s low. I am always able to get at least 20%.
CHM has a team of member advocacy people who can help to negotiate discounts as well. If you have ANY issues at all with the billing department, contact CHM, and they will be able to help you.
Be aware that when you have surgery, there are LOTS of medical providers involved. For my surgery, I have gotten separate bills from:
- The hospital
- The surgeon
- The pathologist
- The anesthesiologist
- The surgical assistant
It’s kind of annoying! But just be aware that when you are using an organization like Christian Healthcare Ministries, you will likely be spending a lot of time on the phone. And it can get frustrating.
The process to submit bills for CHM is pretty easy. Initially, there are quite a few papers that you have to turn in:
- Needs Processing Form
- Needs Processing Worksheet
- Letter of Explanation
- Prayer Page Form (submit only if your bill(s) is for a pre-existing condition)
As you get more bills associated with the incident, you will add those as “add-on” bills.
You need to make sure your bills have the medical codes for the procedures, show how much they charged, any discounts applied, and the total amount due.
If you do not send this, you will get a letter from CHM saying that you need to submit something else. Some medical providers send this information by default; others will require you call the billing department to get it sorted out. Make sure you get the right bills though, or else it will delay the process of getting them paid.
Most of the time, it is going to take 90-120 days to get payment from Christian Healthcare Ministries. They will send a check directly to you, and at that point, you will be responsible for paying the bills off.
Now, most medical providers are not going to wait 90-120 days for payment. Which means you will be responsible for paying something for 3-4 months.
CHM encourages you to apply for any financial aid programs that a hospital or medical provider may offer. This can ease that burden of a monthly payment.
We did not qualify for any of those, so we just set up payment plans for as little they would let us, and we paid that for several months for Oliver’s surgery. As soon as the money came, we paid off the remaining balances, and we were paid back as well for the amounts we paid.
With Oliver’s surgeries, there was no issue doing a payment plan on a self-pay account. However, with mine, we are finding that several of the medical providers will either give us a discount and are requiring we pay it all up front within a certain period of time (ranging from 10 days to 30) with no possibility of a payment plan, or we forfeit the discount.
We have contacted CHM to see what they’d like us to do. At this point, we are just planning to do the payment plan, but it will depend on what they think is best. It is really frustrating though that the medical providers aren’t willing to be more helpful.
**Update – as soon as I posted this, I went to the mail box, and there was a check for one of these prompt pay providers**
Here is a photo of one of the checks we received:
We received another check as well, but the majority of our payment was done up front due to the hospital regulations.
How Much We Ended Up Paying
When all was said and done with Oliver’s surgery, we ended up paying $0 for everything. CHM requires you pay $500 (on the Gold levels – other levels of membership are different), however, if you get enough discounts, and they add up to be over $500, they apply that to your $500 personal responsibility. But even if you don’t get $500 in discounts for something, that’s a pretty small amount compared to most deductibles.
Our bills for Oliver’s surgery ended up being over $12,000 (with discounts applied). For me, my surgery will end up being between $25,000 and $30,000 (with discounts applied).
We have been very pleased with CHM. It’s not a perfect system, and you do have to find ways to pay for medical expenses that aren’t covered (such as preventative care), but in our experience, it has been a much easier process than working with insurance, and it’s saved us a lot of money. It also gave me the freedom to see the specialist that I needed to see without having to deal with the red tape of “out of network” providers.
Had we had insurance, we would have been paying about $2000 a month. For this surgery, I would have had to pay around $5000 for a deductible before the insurance even paid a thing (for at least one of the surgeries – it would have definitely maxed out our deductible), and then our max out of pocket cost would have been around $12,000. That’s a lot of money!
It can be trickier to work through, but honestly, even when we had insurance, I found myself on the phone constantly trying to get things worked out. There were always bills that were overcharged or payments that they didn’t apply correctly. Once I even started getting bills for someone who had somehow gotten a hold of my insurance card #truestory.
If you have a lot of bills under $500 (which are not eligible), then CHM may not be the best option either.
We’ve had to figure out “the system” a little bit – we use a direct pay physician who we pay a monthly fee for unlimited visits and discounts on medical tests. We use Healthcare Bluebook pretty frequently to make sure we aren’t being charged more than is reasonable. I’ve researched the cheapest urgent care options in the area. So it does take some time. But I am grateful that we have this option, and it has worked really well for us.
It is eligible under the ACA. We are not given a penalty for not having insurance.
CHM is also a BBB+ Accredited charity, and they’ve paid out over 1 billion dollars in shared medical bills.
Is it right for you?
You may have access to better insurance – whether because of getting a group insurance rate from work or because you get some kind of credit through the ACA. And I would encourage you to make sure that a health share like CHM is right for you – I would always recommend going with the option that will be the least expensive for your family. And that may not be the case for everyone.
CHM isn’t right for everyone – and that’s okay. I’m not trying to convince everyone to join, because it’s not always realistic. If you have major medical issues that require a lot of monthly fees, it probably isn’t the best option. Although CHM will pay a certain amount each year for the first three years for pre-existing conditions (and three years, it’s no longer considered pre-existing), there are certain stipulations on this. So make sure you are aware of all of this BEFORE you signup. I strongly suggest reading their member guidelines thoroughly. I’ve seen people claim they won’t pay their bills – but if they are eligible, they will pay them.
Also be aware that CHM does not pay for alternative treatments, such as acupuncture. Other similar organizations do – such as Liberty Healthshare – but CHM does not. They also do not pay for medical transportation unless it’s from one medical site to another (there are companies you can pay a yearly fee to that will cover air and ground transportation if needed).
If you are not religious, you won’t be able to join CHM. We found their “faith requirements” to be less stringent than some (some of which excluded us based on us being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), however, you still need to have some kind of religious belief. If you are not religious, Liberty Healthshare may be a better option – my friend, Hilary, has been using them for a while now and writes about them in this post.
You can read a comparison of CHM, Liberty, and Samaritan here – Health Sharing Ministries: Which One is Right For You?.