As health insurance premiums continue to rise, healthcare sharing ministries are receiving more attention than ever before. These organizations aren’t insurance companies, but rather cost-sharing groups that help members share in each other’s medical costs.
Most HCSMs are open to people who share religious or ethical beliefs, and have lower monthly costs than traditional health insurance plans. However, these arrangements are not without their controversies.
Why Health Sharing?
As health insurance premiums rise, more clients are considering healthcare sharing programs as an alternative to traditional health insurance. Often organized under ministries or other religious organizations, these groups bring together people of similar faiths who voluntarily share their medical expenses with one another.
While religious exclusivism has been used by kings, warriors and heads of state to justify religious wars, forced conversions, bans on inter-religious marriages and persecution for nonbelievers, it is possible to practice an exclusivist faith without harming others or infringing on their rights. Indeed, many religions encourage a modified form of exclusivity in which other faiths are recognized as legitimate but not as holy as the true religion.
While most healthcare sharing programs cover typical health-related expenses such as hospital bills, physician visits and prescription drug costs, they typically exclude coverage for a number of costs that are deemed unbiblical – including birth control, abortions and injuries related to drugs or alcohol unless the injury resulted from engaging in hazardous activities (such as not wearing a helmet or seat belt while riding a motorcycle). This can limit the pool of potential members for some healthcare-sharing groups.
Benefits of Health Sharing
While not for everyone, healthcare sharing programs offer an alternative to traditional health insurance. Many people find that these programs offer a better value than their mediocre employer-provided coverage and often save them up to 50 percent when compared to health insurance premiums.
Healthcare sharing ministries are primarily faith-based and accept members based on their beliefs and values. Some programs even include a statement of faith as part of the application process. Unlike traditional health insurance, these groups do not have to meet consumer protections and may provide less stability for consumers.
Typically, healthcare-sharing programs require members to agree to a certain statement of faith and have a set monthly contribution amount. The larger programs also have a similar feature to an annual deductible and have a proven track record of paying eligible medical expenses. In addition, many medical providers are so happy to avoid dealing with the hassles of insurance claims that they offer substantial discounts to cash-paying patients.
Disadvantages of Health Sharing
Health sharing is an alternative to traditional insurance. Members contribute a monthly amount to a pool that they can then share in the event of medical expenses. Members may also choose to give each other money directly for medical bills. Unlike traditional insurance, these plans do not require in-network healthcare providers or have a deductible.
While these benefits are appealing, it is important to consider the disadvantages of healthcare-sharing programs. These programs are not regulated as insurance and do not guarantee payment of medical claims. This can create a risky situation for individuals who need to access care and could drive healthy people away from the broader health insurance market, increasing prices and decreasing consumer protections.
Furthermore, studies have found that cost-sharing reduces the use of physician services. One study of chronically ill adults found that individuals in both low and high-copay groups, compared to those without copays, had lower rates of visiting physicians for minor and serious symptoms. Follow-up health and mental health status was also similar between the groups.
Many people are opting out of traditional health insurance and going to healthcare sharing ministries instead. These programs are usually much cheaper than health insurance but they can leave consumers with gaps in coverage and no consumer protections. They also do not trigger a special enrollment period when they lose coverage and may have waiting periods for certain issues like maternity.
No philosopher denies that the awareness (realization) of apparent religious diversity sometimes has an impact on exclusivists that can range from causing minor uneasiness to significantly reducing their confidence in the truth of their beliefs to precipitating belief abandonment. But the question remains whether these effects can be justifiably interpreted as evidence that the pluralistic view of reality is superior to the exclusivist one.
Gellman argues that the answer is no. He argues that, even if the high place-time/religious allegiance correlation is real, it does not imply that a pluralistic explanation is the only possible one.