Millions of people could qualify for lower rates on federally-subsidized insurance plans offered in state and federal exchanges. But those plans may not work for everyone, especially for families who prioritize faith. Now some of those families are looking for healthcare solutions off the exchanges.
A month ago, Sarah Ryan added a new member to her family.
Little Ryder is about a month old, and he joins two older sisters, ages six and three. Sarah is a former elementary school teacher who stopped working several years ago to become a stay-at-home mom. Now she’s a photographer who photographs newborns. Two years ago her husband lost his job, and with that—the family insurance. The Ryan’s were uninsured for about a year and a half as they struggled to find health insurance they could afford.
“Knowing we wanted to have another baby, and knowing we’d easily reach the maximum out of pocket expenses for the year," Ryan says she and her husband made spreadsheets and compared multiple insurance plans by all the major carriers, like Blue Cross, Aetna and Capital Health Plan. "Basically the range was around $18,000 t0 $24,000 a year between premiums and deductible, after the maximum out-of-pocket expenses," she says.
The family could have gotten insurance through the federal government’s insurance exchange. But they didn’t want that. For one, it was the first time open enrollment had occurred, and Sarah admits, she didn’t fully understand it. Secondly, the idea of the federal subsidy made them uncomfortable.
“I know its private insurance companies on the Obamacare website, but I know the government subsidizes in some ways, although I could be wrong about that. If there was any way we could do it on our own, we felt it was our responsibility to do that.”
The family had been paying about $700 a month with a $7,500 deductible. Ryan says paying that was a strain when her husband was still working. But then, she remembered a program called MediShare, which she had heard about years ago over the radio.
“Which is ironic, because no one hears about anything over the radio anymore—no offense," she laughs.
None taken. Now, to cover the entire family, the Ryan’s pay $240 a month, and have agreed to pay up to $7,500 a year of medical expenses out-of-pocket.
“Our MediShare program is based off the biblical system of sharing in each other’s burdens," says Tony Meggs, President of Christian Care Ministry, which runs MediShare.
The ministry has been around for more than 20 years. Since the creation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, its membership has quadrupled to more than 106,000 members nationwide, with 6,000 of them in Florida. MediShare is not like traditional insurance plans. A family can select how much they can afford a year in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. Based on the number of people in a family, a rate is set. When someone in the network has a bill that needs to be paid—the money generated from the payments goes to pay that expense. Bills are usually paid in about a month, and just like a regular insurance plan, there are networks of doctors in every state which accept MediShare. But as Meggs points out—there are things that are not reimbursable—like abortions. Or birth control.
“Some of these services are very controversial. For people of faith, some of them would violate conscience," he says.
Unlike a regular insurance plan, MediShare does not have to accept people with pre-existing conditions. Members have to adhere to a code-of-conduct, and say for example a person was drinking and got into an accident—that might not be covered.
And he stresses, with the program’s limitations, and non-traditional nature, it is not for everyone. Sara Ryan’s family is okay with that.
"I do support it. It’s for people who agree with what their policies are and we do and we’re happy with that and we don’t have any problems with that," she says.
MediShare operates in every state except for Montana. There are other Christian-based health sharing groups which have also gotten approval by the federal government. Members of the health-sharing systems are considered insured by the federal government, and don’t have to pay any tax penalties, even if their health care doesn’t don’t technically comply with the rules of the Affordable Care Act.