When my wife, Carolyn, recently cut back her hours of work as a nurse at a hospital-related retirement home, we no longer qualified for her employer’s excellent and affordable health insurance plan. We were familiar with the concept of Christians sharing health care costs in place of insurance–and even suggested it occasionally to others–but we had not considered it for ourselves because our insurance had always been a bargain. We looked into several insurance and health cost sharing options for ourselves, and decided on Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM). Our oldest son, John, who is single, carried his own insurance policy, which was tolerably affordable primarily due to a high deductible. He saw he would have better coverage at lower cost by also enrolling with CHM. There are a number of reasons that give us confidence that Christian Healthcare Ministries will serve our health care needs in a way that is beneficial, financially and spiritually.
Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM) is the original modern era health care sharing ministry for Christians, with a history of excellent service to its thousands of members in all 50 states. It is not an insurance provider. CHM is a nonprofit, voluntary, cost-sharing, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt ministry whose members have shared more than $1 billion in medical bills since its beginning in 1981.
Importantly, Christian Healthcare Ministries is recognized under the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the PPACA, more commonly known as Obamacare) as an acceptable option to meet the law’s individual mandate for health cost coverage.
CHM is an A+ Accredited Charity with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), operating under a strict, IRS approved, Board of Directors conflict of interest policy. Various financial duties handled by CHM staff (such as receiving money, disbursing money, preparing checks for payment, signing the checks, and reconciling bank statements) are handled by different people to insure against any mishandling of funds. An annual certified audit by an independent public accounting firm with not-for-profit accounting and auditing experience oversees all aspects of CHM from the receipt and disbursement of money to the systems and procedures that control operations. Additionally, CHM follows the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which directly addresses fraud prevention–even though this is not required of a non-profit organization.
- doesn’t cancel membership or increase rates on a member due to a costly health condition
- doesn’t reject new members if they have a health condition (But CHM cannot share bills incurred before you join. See also their distinction between “active” vs, “maintenance” treatment and the shedule according to which pre-existing conditions may be shared, depending on your enrollment level.)
- doesn’t set rates based on a member’s age, health status, or geographic location
- has programs to help members with costs for pre-existing conditions
- has an optional catastrophic illness cost sharing program (Brother’s Keeper) that assists members with health care costs over $125,000
- can be used like a Medicare supplement as Carolyn and I do, but the cost does not go up due to your age as in most Medicare insurance supplements
- is affordable and compassionate
- has a helpful support staff (based on our own experience contacting them)
- has a generous maternity program
- allows you to choose your own health care providers
- has no application fee or annual fee for its Gold, Silver, or Bronze levels
- has a simple and fast enrollment procedure — it can be done online in just a few minutes
- encourages and facilitates medical bill discounts
- demonstrates longevity, integrity and accountability
- rewards you with one free month for each new individual or family you bring to CHM
- encourages you with the knowledge that each financial gift goes to help a fellow Christian as fellow Christians are standing by to help you! (Luke 6:38)
To be CHM members, participating adults must be Christians living by biblical principles, including abstaining from the use of tobacco and from the illegal use of drugs (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), following biblical teaching on the use of alcohol, and attending group worship regularly if health permits (Hebrews 10:25). There are no restrictions based on age, weight, geographic location or health history. Adult children can be a part of your membership until their 26th birthday as long as they are single, Christians living by biblical principles, and reported as dependents on your income tax forms. For information on adopted children and single-parent households, see their website.
Christian Healthcare Ministries uses a unit system. A unit is a participating individual within a membership. A single person is one unit, a married couple is two units, and a family is three units, regardless of the number of dependent children. Different units may participate in different programs (Gold – $150 monthly per unit, Silver – $85 monthly per unit, or Bronze – $45 monthly per unit).
So, for example, a family consisting of husband (1 unit), wife (1 unit), and dependent children (1 unit for any number of dependent children), would be 3 units. Three units, for husband, wife, and all dependent children, would be a monthly cost of $450 (Gold), $255 (Silver), or $135 (Bronze). To figure your potential yearly costs for medical expenses covered by CHM, you would also add possible personal responsibility per unit, and optional Brother’s Keeper participation (catastrophic illness and injury protection), which is currently about $140-150 per year per unit.
Personal responsibility is the amount CHM members are personally responsible to pay for a medical event before any expenses are submitted for sharing with members. Gold level members are responsible for $500 per unit, per year (total bills incurred per medical incident must exceed $500). Silver and Bronze level members have personal responsibility amounts of $1,000 and $5,000 per incident, respectively. Notice that the Gold level personal responsibility is per year, and the silver and bronze level personal responsibilities are per incident. This is important to keep in mind when evaluating the cost and coverage of different levels. You can check all the definitions and details of all the programs more thoroughly on CHM’s website.
Bill discounts, insurance, Medicare payments, or other assistance can apply toward your personal responsibility amount and reduce (perhaps even eliminate) out-of-pocket costs for covered expenses. Happily, hospitals and medical providers will often grant significant bill discounts to members of CHM and similar groups because they know they will be paid in a prompt, efficient manner without having to deal with excessive paperwork, coverage and charge disputes, etc.
All CHM members are responsible to pay incidental medical expenses, such as maintenance prescriptions, dental expenses, etc.–see CHM’s prescriptions, dental, and vision pages for more info. For health services not covered for sharing, CHM offers help in finding discount health services of various kinds to reduce your expenses.
Monthly financial gift amounts have been raised only once since 2000, and that increase was minimal (at the Gold level, financial gifts went from $135 to $150 monthly). CHM’s stated purpose is not to build profits but to serve the membership.
I have shared the above information about CHM with facts found on their website at the time I write this. I hope this gives a useful overview of their ministry, and why we chose it. However, the presentation of these factors that impressed me represents only a portion of the information on their website and should not be the basis of any decision you might make. You should investigate CHM’s website, and others you may be interested in, examining program details and how they affect your personal situation. If you are seriously considering CHM membership, request the no-obligation information package that includes the complete CHM guidelines.
I have listed below some links to the other health sharing ministries that I looked into before choosing CHM. They all have many admirable similarities, but also some differences that could make one of them a better choice for you. Not only the longevity, financial soundness, details of coverage, available providers, methods of health cost sharing, ease of enrollment, membership service, and other considerations may be important to you, but you may also want to consider the statement of belief included in the membership requirements for each. Some are intentionally Christian, while others are more generically based on faith or personal convictions without a strict requirement of Christian profession.
In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that if you use the link to Christian Healthcare Ministries below and join from there (or if you list my member number, 221021, in the Sponsor Information of the Application for Membership), our family will benefit from your enrollment by receiving one free month for one unit of our family’s membership. This aspect of CHM was also an important factor to me because, as Carolyn and I reduce our regular work hours in our late 60’s, it is nice to anticipate some future months when health care costs may be lower. And, with the CHM Bring-A-Friend referral program, I don’t feel like I am trying to sell somebody something they may not want in order to enhance our income. Instead, by calling attention to a ministry concept that can meet a genuine need for individuals or families of any age, a mutual benefit may come about, both financially and spiritually.
Other health care ministries have similar plans to benefit the members and increase the number of members who mutually share in one another’s health care needs. This is an additional incentive you may not find with an insurance policy. So, if you should decide to join CHM, and do so under our sponsorship, I sincerely thank you. If you should find one of the other groups listed better suited to your needs, I can only say that they all seem to offer admirable, beneficial services, with many similarities. I can think of circumstances where I would have chosen one of the others over CHM. Just follow the Lord’s leading, and take the time to check them all carefully to find the best fit for you.
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