Today I want to share with you why I joined Samaritan Ministries, a Christian, cost-sharing healthcare co-op. It started with the suggestion of Dale Ahlquist, as one of his guidelines for a life lived in freedom and faith. He called this life “The Chesterton Option” and I wrote about it here. My New Year’s Resolution is to live according to this “option” as much as possible. Some aspects take time to implement, but luckily for me and my resolutions, the healthcare part of it has been in full swing for a few months. I wanted to make the switch to a cost-sharing healthcare when I first heard his talk in May, and then a few months later I left my job and knew it was the perfect opportunity.
Why I Chose Cost-Sharing Healthcare Instead of Health Insurance
For those of you unfamiliar with the idea of cost-sharing healthcare, here is how it works. Each month, every member sends their monthly “share” to another member who has a medical expense. When a member has a medical expense, he can “publish” it (if it meets the guidelines.) All published expenses are assigned in parts to each member. So for example, each month I receive an email with the information of a member to whom I send my $160 share. Other members also send their shares to this person, so that his published medical expenses are met. Likewise, each member who publishes medical expenses has them met by several members sending him their shares.
The simplicity and transparency of this system really appealed to me. “The Chesterton Option” is all about taking ownership of your own life, and also living in faith. The members of cost-sharing healthcare co-ops are not looking for free or complete health insurance, but they do recognize that the burdens of life are sometimes too much for one person or family to bear alone. So they join together to “bear one another’s burdens.” (Gal 6:2) These co-ops recognize that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand (hence the unsharable amount, see below) but also that faith brings us together into a true community.
I definitely wanted to be a part of this community.
And because many of these cost-sharing healthcare programs are Christian, they have standards about what they will and will not pay for. So I would have the assurance that my money would never go towards something I am morally opposed to, such as abortion. This sealed the deal for me.
Why I Chose Samaritan Ministries
There are several programs that share health costs, so I did some research to choose the one that would work best for me. I tried not to just choose the cheapest option, but I looked at what each one offered and how smoothly it worked.
Amount of Expenses Covered:
Liberty has an option that allows for medical bills to be shared up to $1 million per incident, and for a very reasonable monthly share. (It would have been $149/month for me.)
For a similar monthly payment, Samaritan has an option that allows for medical bills to be shared up to $250,000 per incident. (They have cheaper options that allow a percentage of the bill to be shared, but I didn’t consider those, I wanted to be able to publish 100% of any bills.) Although this amount is much less than the amount sharable by Liberty, Samaritan has a Save to Share program that allows members to contribute an extra $133 per year, allowing catastrophic bills (> $250,000) to be shared, with no cap. This appealed to me: for slightly more than an extra $10/month, I could share to insure that even in the event of a bill greater than a million dollars, I would have the support of the community.
Both programs have certain amounts that are not sharable. Liberty has an annual unsharable amount of $500, and Samaritan has a per need unsharable amount of $300. The reasoning behind these amounts is that they are not high enough to be considered a serious financial burden. The point is not free healthcare, the point is to share each other’s burdens. This goes back to living in true freedom (which goes hand in hand with responsibility) and in faith. However, Samaritan recognizes that it is possible to get discounts on medical bills, and they allow these to reduce the $300 unsharable amount. So the amount that you are personally responsible for may be lessened.
Type of Expenses Covered:
When it comes to pre-existing conditions, Liberty offers a slightly better option than Samaritan, but I don’t have a pre-existing condition, so this didn’t apply to me.
Both programs allow you to see the doctor of your choice, and allow sharing for certain alternative treatments.
With regards to other medical needs, Samaritan seemed to offer more comprehensive sharing, at least at the time I was doing my research. (August 2017.) I recommend going over each set of guidelines to see the specifics of what is currently covered. (Samaritan guidelines and Liberty guidelines.)
Regardless, Samaritan has a Special Prayer Needs program that gives members the option of donating toward bills that are not “covered.” For example, if I have a dental expense that is more than I can afford, I can tell the Samaritan Community. In their next monthly share, members will be given information about my situation, and will be asked to prayerfully consider giving an extra $20 that month to help cover my expenses.
Members of both Samaritan and Liberty are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that you have health insurance or pay a penalty tax.
The final aspect I considered was how smoothly each program operated. I had personally heard positive feedback about Samaritan, but did not know anyone who had used Liberty. This review suggests that Samaritan is a larger, more established organization that operates smoothly. I did not find any negative reviews about Liberty, and it sounds like they keep getting better, but I felt more confident with Samaritan.
Samaritan Ministries It Is:
I ended up going with Samaritan Ministries because they are affordable and offer good options for coverage. I love the Special Prayer Needs program and the option of Save to Share. They have a good reputation and that sealed the deal for me.
However, I do suggest you look more closely at both options if you are considering joining a healthcare co-op. Liberty might work better for pre-existing or chronic conditions.
So How’s It Been Going With Samaritan Ministries?
I have been a member for less than 6 months, but so far I love my experience. I send a check with my monthly share to a family in need, and say a quick prayer for them as well. Twice now my shares have been reduced because there was no need for the full amount! One time this happened, there was also a Special Prayer Need, and my email let me know how much each member could give to completely cover that expense. There was absolutely no pressure, and I was encouraged to pray for this person regardless of whether I could contribute financially.
I have not needed to have any of my own medical expenses covered, so I cannot speak to how smoothly that part of the system runs. I do have a Samaritan member card to present to the doctor in the event of a medical expense that is sharable. When this happens, I will choose to pay for the bill and will ask for all applicable discounts (often up to 75%.) I will then submit the itemized bill to Samaritan and will be reimbursed by the members.
Soon after I joined Samaritan Ministries, I received notification that their maternity expenses guidelines were changing. Very soon after that, I received another email explaining that so many members were taken aback by this decision, that SMI decided to postpone the changes to give their members more time to adapt. This impressed me, for it showed that SMI listens to its members and seriously considers feedback.
About dental care…Routine dental care is not sharable with Samaritan, so before I left my last job, I made sure to get any dental work done that I needed while it was still covered. After I left my job, I began swishing with coconut oil every night. (You never know.) Now that I am employed again, I have the option of signing up for dental insurance through my employer, but keeping my membership with Samaritan. This could be a good option for many of you, if you want to join a healthcare co-op but also want dental insurance.
So there you go! I love that a conscious culture can extend into every area of our lives, even healthcare. I hope you got some good information from this post. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, or if you have experiences with cost-sharing, healthcare co-ops that you want to share with us!