If you are not familiar with Christian Healthcare Ministries you absolutely should be. Our family has participated in the CHM community now for several years and hope to persuade you to do so as well. You will simply not find a better way to manage your healthcare costs.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA; a.k.a. “Obamacare”) has significantly shifted the playing field in American healthcare and health insurance. In order to provide insurance coverage to otherwise uninsured Americans, insurance companies are steadily increasing their premiums and deductibles on those already insured. Most of our friends are seeing rate increases of 30-50%. Employers are becoming less able to provide company-paid insurance, thus forcing their employees into the government “marketplace” where they’re offered less coverage at higher costs.
Enter Christian Healthcare Ministries. CHM is one of three major Christian-based healthcare cost-sharing networks (see also Christian Medi-Share and Samaritan’s Ministries). These networks are all considered qualified plans by the ACA and therefore exempt from any penalties. CHM and similar ministries are being flooded with new members as the ripples of the ACA reach further and further into the typical family’s pocketbook.
CHM is not insurance. It is a faith-based way of sharing healthcare costs across a large network of other like-minded Christians. CHM also requires a conscientious commitment to biblically-faithful lifestyle.
We joined CHM after several years of research and facing a steep increase in premiums for a higher deductible plan. Facing $900/month premiums for a $5,000/$10,000 deductible on a 70/30 plan, it would be cheaper to have no insurance than to have traditional insurance! As unconventional as the system sounded, we simply couldn’t afford not to do it.
If you’re like me, you would want to see how CHM really works. I hope to do just that and encourage you to consider CHM as a way of relieving your family and Christians worldwide of bloated medical costs and escape an unsustainable insurance system. Further, there is no limited network of doctors or facilities so you choose whoever you want, wherever you want. CHM will even share needs related to pre-existing conditions up to comparatively generous amounts. There is no chess match with an insurance company to time your care around expiring deductibles. And rest assured, maternity is included as well for no additional cost at the gold level!
CHM’s goal is to relieve Christians from the undue worry about the cost of needed healthcare.
CHM has three levels of participation, depending on how much financial responsibility you want to assume for any given medical incident. While you want to call this a “deductible,” it’s actually not because CHM is not insurance. You’ll see why shortly.
My wife and I are on the gold level (we assume the first $500 of personal responsibility) with a daughter on the silver level (we assume the first $1,000 of personal responsibility). That all adds up to $385/month. CHM does cap the amount a family pays per month, however, without reducing any coverage.
We visit any doctor and/or hospital as a cash payer and handle all the billing ourselves. As such, most doctors and facilities immediately discount their services substantially. We’ve come to expect about 30% right off the top without playing any hardball or “negotiating.” And here’s the kicker: any discounts we secure count toward our personal responsibility. In other words, if we secure over $500 in discounts then we’ve met our personal responsibility for that incident. In essence, we’ve relieved the CHM network of additional burden and no fat-cat insurance executives are getting rich off the system.
We make a modest payment at the time of service and set up a payment plan for the next few months (usually $50 or $100/month). In that time, we submit the bills to CHM who will turn around a check within a few months for the services plus any related prescriptions. They also provide an authorization to send the payment directly to the provider, if preferred. CHM will also attempt to negotiate further discounts if they deem it reasonable to do so. Once we receive the check we keep what we have already paid and send the rest to the provider(s).
Let’s consider some scenarios to flesh this out.
SCENARIO #1: Dad has a sinus infection
He goes to your local family doctor. Again, there is no doctor’s network so he goes wherever he wants. Most local doctors have a self-pay scale. He’ll pay, for example, $50 for the visit and get a prescription for a $10 antibiotic. Since this is under the personal responsibility amount, he’ll pay out-of-pocket for all of this. However, he hasn’t paid much more (if at all) than if he were on traditional insurance with a co-pay. Only, he hasn’t paid $900 for that month’s premium! And your doctor loves him because there is no hassle with or paperwork for an insurance company.
SCENARIO #2: Junior breaks his arm and it’s off to the ER
You take Junior to ER (again, wherever you want to go). You explain your with CHM and a self-pay patient. We’ve never had to pay anything up front at an ER but we are usually prepared to pay the equivalent of a co-pay. Junior gets treated and heads home with a cool, new cast.
The hospital will send you a bill. If it’s not itemized then you ask for one. You will see an ER charge of $4,000 with a discount, for example, of $2,500. You call the hospital and set up a payment plan for $100/month. You then send that bill to CHM and the $8 receipt from the pharmacy where you got his pain pills, who then processes this need. You’ve secured over $500 in discounts so you’ve met your personal responsibility (that would change based on your plan level). In a few months, CHM will send you a check for $1,508 ($4,000 – $2,500 + $8). You keep $308 (three monthly payments to hospital plus the prescription cost) and send the rest to the hospital.
SCENARIO #3: Mom has swollen lymph nodes (our latest real life scenario with my wife)
She goes to our local doc last year, who suspects this might be lymphoma. We take her to the best doctor/clinic we can find in town. She underwent lymphoma testing involving three biopsies, two PET scans, and a battery of other tests. We explain CHM and should be treated as a cash-payer. We make some modest payments here and there and get detailed bills at every stop. We submit those bills along with prescription receipts consistently to CHM as all part of the same incident.
Since we had secured more than $500 in discounts (more like $20,000!), our personal responsibility was clearly met. Therefore, 100% (!) of her care has been and will continue to be shared by the CHM network for this incident. CHM shares needs based on an incident, not the calendar. So, there is no deductible that starts over on January 1. Every cost related to this incident is 100% covered. Remarkable.
Again, we cannot guarantee you’ll receive any discounts or the same discounts we have. Some doctors are more agreeable than others. But, we think our situations have been typical and you can trust the CHM network with your health cost needs. Honestly, in light of rapidly increasing costs and decreasing quality of care, we don’t know why any Christian would not use CHM.
The CHM network will share up to $250,000 of any incident. They offer their Brother’s Keeper (BK) program for an additional quarterly contribution ranging from $50-$70. BK secures unlimited need-sharing for an incident. We’ve chosen to participate in BK as well but that’s entirely discretionary.
I hope this encourages you to consider CHM for your healthcare cost needs. If, after visiting CHM’s website and talking to their wonderful staff, you still have questions or need reassurance then feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org). We’ve been there and know there is much to consider. If you do decide to join CHM, make sure to reference our membership number (#155029) on the application. Then go spread the word yourself and stop worrying about the next doctor visit!