Treat: Health care sharing — the legal escape from Obamacare

By Dan Treat

Every year more than 1 million individuals across the United States benefit from health care sharing instead of purchasing health insurance. In 2009, Obamacare exempted health care sharing ministries already in existence from the individual mandate requirement. This allowed thousands of Americans to decrease the financial risk of an unforeseen health care expense by joining one of several organizations that aligned with their values.

Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

Christian Healthshare Ministries offers three different levels of participation: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Gold level members are asked to pay a monthly gift amount of $150 and have a personal responsibility — think deductible — of $500 per incident.

I joined one of these organizations, Christian Healthcare Ministries, nine years ago. I was between jobs at that time and did not have access to low cost health insurance.  Since then they have saved me thousands of dollars in medical expenses.

Back in 2012 I had to go to the hospital for surgery and CHM came through by helping share the cost of the surgery.  Also around that time I was battling an unknown condition that blurred my vision and caused painful burning and itching in my eyes. I received cards in the mail from fellow members who said they were praying for me and wished me well.

Founded in 1981, Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM) is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization that operated in all 50 states. They are a nonprofit, faith-based ministry that assists its members in paying for health care costs. CHM’s mission is based on a Bible passage commanding Christians to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

CHM offers three different levels of participation: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Gold level members are asked to pay a monthly gift amount of $150 and have a personal responsibility — think deductible — of $500 per incident. Silver members pay $85 monthly with a $1,000 responsibility level, and Bronze members pay $45/month with a $5,000 responsibility level. Members are encouraged to ask for discounts on their medical bills and CHM will assist them in negotiating discounts with their health care providers.

The Gold level has some additional features that the other levels do not. For example, certain pregnancy-related expenses and expenses related to physical therapy are eligible for sharing.  Bills for ambulance transportation under certain circumstances may also qualify for assistance.  In addition, Gold members have some extra help for pre-existing conditions.

Regarding pre-existing conditions, another helpful feature is the “prayer page.” The prayer page is a section of CHM’s monthly newsletter that lists medical needs that do not qualify for assistance through the regular CHM program. CHM members are invited to give above and beyond their monthly gifts to help fellow Christians. All such contributions are tax deductible.

Last year, our legislators passed a bill prohibiting Vermonters from refusing to buy health insurance, and did not explicitly exempt health sharing ministries like CHM. This means that Vermonters may have to pay a penalty for not having insurance, even if they are part of an organization that “shares,” expenses. The possible exemption, and possible penalties will likely be discussed at the Legislature in the coming months.

For anyone wishing for more specific information on how CHM operates, go to www.CHMinistries.org.

Dan Treat is a lifelong Vermonter and a friend of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in South Burlington. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Images courtesy of U.S. Navy and Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

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