CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Some people are having a hard time affording health insurance so they’re going a different route. They're signing up for what is called health care sharing ministries.
According to the industry, there are now more than 100 groups with more than a million members.
Health care sharing isn't insurance. It's more like crowd funding. In fact, people who work in the health care sharing industry are the first to tell you it's not insurance, but in fact an alternative.
"We don't want to be insurance. We don't look like insurance. We don't smell like it," Liberty Healthshare's Matt Bellis told Action 9. "I actually liken it a lot to going to a church where people have gathered together to support each other, give money to one another, stand up and say, 'Hey everybody, I broke my arm. Here’s the medical bill.' And people just come up and give you money."
Here's how it works: You pay a fee every month, like an insurance premium, but it is usually a fraction of the cost. The money goes directly to people who have medical bills they can't pay. In many cases, you even see who your money was directed to. And when you need help with your doctor bills, you can get money, too.
Typically, health care sharing plans cover far less than health insurance. For example, they don't cover a lot of preventive care or even prescriptions. Plus, since they're faith-based, many don't cover abortions, substance abuse treatment, or cosmetic surgery.
Since they're not insurance, they're not regulated by the state. So, if you have a problem, don't expect the Department of Insurance to help. That said, the state attorney general may get involved.
Susan and Mike Shockley have had a positive experience.
They belong to Liberty. Mike had skin cancer, a hernia and big medical bills. The largest was $36,000 and Liberty paid it all. "We paid the money every month and they provide the service when we need it," Susan said. "We are still getting the medical bills, but so far, so good. They are paying it."
Greg and Paige Howard had a negative experience. "I have several clients that use it, never had a problem," Paige said. "We were unfortunate."
They're self-employed. They had Blue Cross Blue Shield but said "the rates skyrocketed." So they joined a health care sharing ministry called Aliera Healthcare. "I just wanted something affordable, reliable for a catastrophe," Paige told Action 9.
Greg broke his wrist and had surgery. The total bill was $25,000. "So we just kept getting the runaround," Paige said. "We pretty much called them or emailed them every day for nine months," Greg said. The Howards got two state agencies involved. They said Aliera eventually reimbursed them all $25,000, minus their deductible. The Howards said they went back to Blue Cross.
Aleira told Action 9 it was disappointed the Howards had a bad experience. The group said, "Meeting or exceeding members’ expectations is, and always will be, our highest priority as a health-sharing ministry. The vast majority of the time, we are successful in fulfilling that mission."
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