1. Your finances
HealthShares appeal to many because they come with lower month-to-month costs than traditional insurance not subsidized by an employer, but the catch is that a HealthShare does not guarantee all bills will be paid. Deciding which bills may be shared in a HealthShare, and for how much, can take time. In some cases, members of sharing ministries who waited for the ministry to pay their bills, rather than paid their own and asked for reimbursement, ended up being sent to collections because the process took too long. Of course, that won’t always be the case, and some companies process bills faster than others, but it isn’t wise to switch to a HealthShare hoping to save money while also risking your credit score. Most HealthShares prefer to reimburse; exceptions include Samaritan, OneShare Health, and Zion Health.
2. Your health and age
A HealthShare ministry is not insurance and therefore not required to accept members with pre-existing conditions, regardless of severity. Most HealthShares either don’t accept members over 65, as they are then eligible for Medicare, or else charge people over 65 a larger membership fee. Many HealthShares charge higher monthly fees based on the member’s age, so be careful to check plan and pricing information before committing. In addition, many HealthShares give limited assistance for costs associated with any pre-existing conditions. Those that accept members with pre-existing health issues nearly always at least have one of the following conditions:
- Conditions that might be improved by lifestyle changes, such as obesity, require the member to pay an extra fee for their membership and join a health coaching program. These programs track members’ progress and if the member does not meet their targeted goals in the time allowed, they might lose their membership.
- Waiting periods before any bills related to the pre-existing condition are shareable (usually 1-2 years).
- Caps on how much of a bill related to this condition is shareable (for instance, $50K max).
Finally, many sharing ministries won’t share any mental health or pharmaceutical bills, and some also don’t share costs for routine care. Most HealthShares offer some sort of discount program for prescriptions but depending on your needs that might not help much. A generic-brand steroid inhaler, for example, might cost several hundred dollars even with a discount program, and more specialized medications like insulin could see someone facing astronomical costs. People who want prescription and/or preventive care sharing should consider Zion Health, Altrua, and Liberty HealthShare.
3. Your values
HealthShare ministries are not traditional corporate entities. They are non-profit organizations usually related to a specific faith group, and they always require their members to agree to a certain standard of living. No tobacco use and no alcohol abuse are common standards.
Some ministries also require membership in a certain faith; others are more generous and only require that members try to be healthy, kind people. Membership requirements can be incredibly strict, and the values of the religion a sharing ministry is attached to can affect what bills are shareable. For example, many HealthShares won’t help with maternity costs for a baby born out of wedlock, and some belonging to pacifist groups won’t help with any injuries related to war.
Participation in faith-based HealthShares directly supports specific values and organizations; it may also affect members’ level of care. If any HealthShare seems like a possible fit, read through their information carefully to check that the ministry aligns with your values and will offer the care you need. Religiously lenient HealthShares include Liberty HealthShare and Zion Health.
4. Provider network
HealthShares don’t work like traditional insurance, so they don’t necessarily contract with providers like traditional insurances do and several sharing ministries allow members to visit any provider they like with no change in which bills are shareable. However, many HealthShares do recommend seeing caregivers who participate in the PHCS/Multiplan network, which has a few benefits:
- If a provider is contracted with an insurance network, it means they are legally licensed and have approval to practice.
- Providers contracted with insurance are familiar with medical billing. This might make submitting a sharing request easier.
- HealthShares using a provider network often have search features on their websites that help their members find care.
Of course, some people might prefer not having a provider network. Those people should consider Solidarity, Liberty HealthShare, and Sedera.