The health insurance open season began on November 1. With the dramatic rise in the cost of many health insurance policies, people are searching for affordable insurance options.

With the cost of traditional health insurance rising, healthcare sharing ministries may be an option to consider.

One form of health insurance that's become popular since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are health care sharing ministries (or HCSMs).

These are non-profit organizations whose members generally hold a common belief and agree to “share” the cost of members’ medical care. HCSMs have been around for many years, but have become more popular in recent years. Many HCSMs are based on religion and have strict rules, like:

  • No use of tobacco or illegal drugs
  • You must drink lightly or not at all
  • No sex outside of a traditional Christian marriage
  • No contraception
  • You must attend church regularly.

Health Sharing is Health Caring!

Claims are paid by group members. So in some cases, members can simply opt to not pay your claim if they don’t want to or should you break a rule. These rules should not be taken lightly, and they can differ from one organization to another.

If you don’t have strong ties to the group, belong to the same religion, or have the same beliefs as other members, it’s best to avoid joining an HCSM.

Some HCSMs don't require members to have a certain religious affiliation or any faith at all. But they still ask members to subscribe to certain ethical rules. One such HCSM is Liberty HealthShare.

Frugal living expert Holly Johnson is a member of Liberty HealthShare and she said she hasn’t had any issues with the rules of her ministry.

Johnson’s family decided to join Liberty HealthShare when the ACA was first enacted and their traditional health insurance plan was canceled. They had a high-deductible plan, and were only paying $392 per month.

“Anthem wanted to replace our plan with a similar plan with an ever higher deductible – and an $800 monthly premium to boot,” she said. “We joined Liberty HealthShare because we didn’t want to pay $800 per month and still have a $12,000 family deductible to meet every year. It’s simple math.”

With Liberty HealthShare, Johnson’s family of four is paying $449 per month. They also have a $1,500 annual unshared amount, which works like a deductible.

As a result, they aren't required to offer the same values, benefits, and protections to members as health insurance bound by the ACA. However, members of qualifying HCSMs are exempt from paying the tax penalty, which has boosted membership significantly.

In addition, the monthly cost is typically much less than conventional health insurance. Some members enjoy knowing that their membership dues are not being used to pay the medical bills of things that they might not agree with, like abortion or other sensitive medical issues.

The lifestyle rules of HCSMs can also weed out some of the unhealthiest habits. This includes drinking, smoking, or engaging in risky sexual behavior. With typical health insurance, you have no control over others with the same coverage.  These behaviors tend to make the cost of health insurance rise.

In fact, under Obamacare, smokers can be charged up to 50 percent more for their premiums as a tobacco surcharge. This helps to offset health costs as a result of addiction to nicotine.

Although HCSMs don’t require any medical tests to confirm your commitment to these lifestyle rules, they can require tests if you admit to nicotine use. According to the FAQs on Liberty HealthShare’s website, if you are a tobacco user when you join the HCSM, you are expected to stop using tobacco within six months of enrollment and be tested for nicotine in your body.

Liberty HealthShare also has a program called Liberty HealthTrack. This accepts members who have pre-existing health conditions that can be improved through lifestyle changes.

The program is meant to help members improve their health. It helps them by working with a health coach to develop goals and a plan related to their health condition. Members in this program have to pay an extra fee of $80 a month on top of their regular monthly share amount.

Other than religious organizations, other good candidates for HCSMs could be labor unions or fraternal organizations. But religious convictions are the glue that holds these existing groups together.

This is a Centsai series on health care.  Check this out if you are curious about whether you can successfully crowdfund your insurance!