As Kacie Melvin anticipated the arrival of her newborn and transitioned from school teacher to stay-at-home mom, she immediately knew health insurance was going to pose a problem.
So Melvin and her husband, both members of First Baptist Church in Orlando, did something that more and more Florida Baptists are doing. They began to look into alternatives to the increasing costs of insurance, especially for those who are not receiving healthcare benefits from an employer.
What they found was heath-care cost-sharing ministries.
While health-care cost-sharing ministries have been around for years, rising insurance costs associated with the Affordable Care Act coupled with the inflexibility of its structure and mandates have caused many believers to take a fresh look at these sharing ministries.
It remains to be seen what impact, if any, President Trump’s promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act could have on the increasing popularity of other health-care alternatives.
Dale Bellis, CEO of Liberty Healthshare, a health-cost sharing ministry founded in 1995, said Florida is one of the top five states in terms of the number of people who use this ministry. And while Liberty Healthshare does not require a doctrinal commitment, it does typically appeal more to those who share similar beliefs and values, as outlined on its website, who are interested in addressing the health-care crisis from a biblical standpoint.
Bellis said health-care cost sharing is a good fit for small-business owners and others purchasing insurance privately.
“More than that,” Bellis explained, “[it’s a good fit] for the person who wants to take charge of and make their own decisions about their health care.”
High monthly premiums and hefty deductibles finally compelled Dawn Loyd and husband Benjie, senior pastor of River Road Baptist Church in Hilliard, to start asking questions about how health-care cost-sharing ministries work and if they really help people.
Loyd said three years with Blue Cross Blue Shield had them paying a $1,300 premium each month with a $27,000 deductible. On top of that, when she had a medical issue that needed prompt attention, their insurance plan wouldn’t cover all the treatment she needed. At a conference, the Loyds came across representatives from Christian Healthcare Ministries and decided it was worth looking in to.
“At first we thought it was a scam, but we found other people we knew who had it and had a great experience,” Loyd said.
While each ministry is structured a little differently, most of them require members to pay a monthly amount that is then distributed to those with medical bills that they are struggling to pay. Most of the ministries also distribute a monthly newsletter so members can rejoice over needs that have been met, see outstanding needs and pray for those in need as well as those who will help meet those needs.
Ministries such as Liberty Healthshare and Christian Healthcare Ministries have members pay their monthly contribution into a shared account that is facilitated by the ministry. It is then distributed to those with bills that need to be paid. In most cases the ministry lets you know who they are sending your money to. Samaritan Ministries, the health-care cost-sharing ministry that the Melvins participate in, works a little differently. The Melvins receive the name, address and need of another member and send their contribution directly to them.
Melvin said when she sends her check, she prays for the recipient family and sends them a note of encouragement. She has not been concerned about issues of privacy because members are vetted before they join and come with the recommendation of their pastor.
Beyond getting help paying their medical bills, Loyd likes the fact that the ministry really cares about their wellbeing.
“Blue Cross Blue Shield never cared for me like that,” she said.
Technically, people who participate in health-care cost-sharing ministries are uninsured, but the Affordable Care Act provides an exemption for faith-based ministries like these, and therefore members are not subject to penalties.
“We are a safe harbor from our money being used for abortion or other costs related to high-risk lifestyles,” Bellis said.
The ability for believers to assist each other and share each other’s burdens makes health-care cost-sharing attractive to many who have struggled under the weight of high insurance premiums and the rising cost of medical care. It takes the impersonal, corporate bureaucracy and anonymity of the health-care industry and creates an environment of cooperation and personalization that allows people to live in true community.
“Insurance is a transactional matter,” Bellis said. “This is relational healthcare.”
Nicole Kalil is the Jacksonville-based reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness, the official news source of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She can be reached at 904-596-3169, or via email at Nicole.Kalil@gofbw.com