What are healthcare-sharing ministries?
While searching for affordable health insurance options, you may come across something called healthcare-sharing ministries, or health sharing ministries. Healthcare-sharing ministries are not technically health insurance, so if you’re looking for health insurance, you’re better off with a Marketplace plan (also known as Obamacare or Affordable Care Act health insurance), Medicaid, or COBRA. Grab our step-by-step guide on how to apply for Marketplace health insurance to learn more.
What is a healthcare-sharing ministry?
Most simply, a healthcare-sharing ministry lets a group of people make payments to help cover one another’s medical bills, which is known as cost sharing. Most often, these people are of a shared religious faith, but you do not necessarily have to be of that faith to join. These programs do not technically count as health insurance, and do not meet the standards of minimum essential coverage as outlined by the Affordable Care Act.
They do not offer the consumer protections that Marketplace plans offer. They usually don’t cover pre-existing conditions and often have lifetime and annual maximums for coverage. And healthcare-sharing ministries are not regulated by state health insurance laws and regulations like a real health insurance plan would be.
Health sharing ministries sometimes advertise themselves as “ACA-compliant,” or “acceptable under the law,” even though they don’t have the same consumer protections as ACA plans. This is because the Affordable Care Act created a special exemption to the health insurance fine for people enrolled in these plans. In most states, there is no longer a fine for going without health insurance, so this provision is not relevant to most people.
Healthcare-sharing ministries often cost more than traditional health insurance
The cost varies, but healthcare-sharing ministries typically cost several hundred dollars. A single 50-year-old enrolling in Medi-Share (Christian Care Ministry) will pay between $176/month and $484/month, and a family of four with 50-year-old parents will pay $301 to $959 per month.
The listed health insurance premiums (sometimes called a “monthly share” in a healthcare-sharing ministry) for healthcare-sharing ministries are typically cheaper than the full price of a Marketplace plan—however, 9 out of 10 people qualify for government subsidies that make Marketplace coverage much more affordable in practice. In 2019, most people who enrolled through HealthSherpa had monthly premiums of less than $50/month for their Obamacare after subsidies, and nearly 1 in 5 of all HealthSherpa enrollees had premiums of $0/month.
The tax credits and subsidies available for Marketplace health coverage are not available for healthcare-sharing ministry premiums.
Marketplace plans also have protections that limit the amount you spend out of pocket in a given year before your plan covers all of your remaining costs. In contrast, many health sharing ministries will place a dollar limit on how much they will pay for your care in a year – and once you reach it, your bills won’t be covered anymore. That means that depending on the care you need, you may end up spending more on medical costs, despite low premiums.
Other common requirements of healthcare-sharing ministries
Because healthcare-sharing ministries are faith-based non-profits, they can require members to adhere to the religious or moral standards the ministry establishes. Your coverage may also be dependent on continuing to adhere to these standards—for example, you could be excluded from the ministry if you are unmarried and have a child, or if you are gay. Likewise, the ministry may not cover certain medical expenses if they do not conform to the ministry’s moral standards. That means that health sharing ministries often don’t cover the costs of services like birth control, fertility treatment, HIV/AIDS treatment, mental health care or medical care for pregnancy outside of marriage.
Some of the main healthcare-sharing ministries include Samaritan Ministries, Christian Healthcare Ministries, Christian Care Ministry, Liberty Healthshare, Trinity Healthshare, Aliera Healthcare, and Altrua Healthshare.
What are my other health insurance options?
You have several other coverage options.
- Marketplace/“Obamacare” plan. You can enroll in a Marketplace health insurance plan, also known as Obamacare or Affordable Care Act insurance. See plans and prices here.
- Medicaid. You also may be eligible for Medicaid, depending on your income. You can see if you’re eligible and apply here.
- COBRA. If you’ve been laid off recently, you usually have the option of COBRA, where you pay the full premium of the same insurance your employer purchased for you. COBRA is typically much more expensive than Marketplace insurance, but it allows you to continue the coverage you already had. Learn more about comparing COBRA with Obamacare health insurance.
- Medicare. Once you turn 65, you’re eligible for Medicare. Call us to enroll at (855) 677-3060.
If you have questions or need help enrolling, you can call us at (872) 228-2549.