QUESTION

What are health care sharing ministries? What are the risks and benefits of signing up for one?

Individuals with no coverage | Comparing Plans: Benefits and Costs
ANSWER

It is important to understand that a health care sharing ministry is not health insurance, and may not provide the kind of financial protection you can obtain through a health plan on the health insurance marketplace. However, if you are a member of a health care sharing ministry, you are exempt from the tax penalty for failing to maintain minimum essential coverage. Typically health sharing ministries operate by having all of their members pay a monthly “share” or fee. Those fees are then used to pay other members’ medical bills, if they qualify and if the reason for needing care was not due to “un-Christian” behavior. Names and the current needs of members are published in a monthly newsletter, and members are able to support each other financially and through prayer.

Health care sharing ministries do not have to comply with the consumer protections outlined in the Affordable Care Act, and many states have exempted them from the state’s insurance laws. As a result, consumers could be at greater financial risk in these programs than they would be in traditional insurance. In particular, if there’s a dispute between you and the heath care sharing ministry about covered benefits, or if you’re having trouble getting your medical bills paid, many state insurance regulators do not have jurisdiction to help you. (26 U.S.C. § 5000A).

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