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Should You Stay in a Health Sharing Ministry for 2019?

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Should You Stay in a Health Sharing Ministry for 2019?

Susan Wright

Updated: June 28, 2019    Published: October 12, 2018

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Given the ever-changing world of healthcare coverage – as well as its increasing price – it may or may not make sense for you to stick with a specific plan from one year to the next.

This is particularly the case in 2019 and beyond if you have chosen a healthcare sharing ministry, whether due to their attractive costs or to avoid the Obamacare tax penalty for essentially being “uninsured”.

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2019 Christian Health Plan Changes Could Make Healthcare Ministries Less Attractive

Over the past several years, Christian health plans have seen an exponential increase in membership, due in large part to their protection from the uninsured tax penalty. These faith-based plans are offered via non-profit charities that have a religious purpose – and this may well be one of the reasons that you chose to join.

Since faith-based plans have also been grandfathered into Obamacare, enrollees did not incur the tax penalty that would otherwise be charged for not having proper health insurance coverage.

Based on the tax reform bill that was passed in late 2017, millions of Americans could be impacted when it comes to healthcare coverage. But for those who are enrolled in a healthcare ministry, the fallout may be particularly harsh.

One big reason for this is the repeal of the tax penalty for not having insurance coverage. So, while the law still mandates that individuals secure health insurance, starting in 2019, those who do not have ample coverage won’t be penalized monetarily.

This, in turn, will remove a key advantage of the faith-based plan alternative. So, when you compare the costs and tax ramifications in the near future, you could find that an individual health insurance policy may provide you with more benefits at a lower out-of-pocket cost.

Therefore, it could be well worth it to determine whether or not sticking with your healthcare sharing ministry makes the most sense, both from a healthcare and financial standpoint.

Does a Health Sharing Ministry Still Make Sense for You?

There’s little time remaining in 2018 before the Obamacare open enrollment period for next year closes. You may need to go over your alternatives in order to narrow down the best direction for your specific needs and budget. Determining whether you should stay in your current health share plan or switch over to a more traditional health insurance policy may be helped along by answering some important questions, such as:

  • Does your current faith-based plan meet your actual healthcare needs?
  • Did you join the plan for healthcare or religious reasons?
  • Was a key motivator for securing your current plan the avoidance of the tax penalty?
  • Do you have any pre-existing health conditions (which could make it more difficult to switch to another plan)?
  • Is your current healthcare plan burdensome in terms of your share of the cost?

You may be surprised to find that an individual health insurance plan can meet your coverage needs, and provide you with additional advantages, too. For instance, because faith-based health plans are not considered insurance policies, you could have little or no legal protection if a claim is not paid, or even if the ministry goes bankrupt.

In addition, unlike regular insurance policies, a faith-based health plan could also require you to abide by various rules or restrictions, such as abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, and regularly attending church services. With that in mind, if you do not follow these regulations, you could end up losing your coverage.

What Exactly Makes Faith-Based Healthcare So Attractive?

It is important to point out that the coverage you have through a health sharing ministry is not actual health insurance, but rather a method of sharing (or “pooling”) the cost of medical and healthcare-related needs with other like-minded individuals.

Because these plans are not considered to be health insurance per se, though, healthcare sharing ministries are not required to cover the essential health benefits that are mandated by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) – which to some might seem like a big risk.

Going forward, though, given that those who are enrolled in faith-based plans and those covered by regular health insurance will not have to face such penalties, it could make a personal health insurance policy much more appealing for you.

Albeit, over the past several years, membership in health sharing ministries has significantly increased. According to the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, between 2011 and 2017, the number of enrollees blossomed approximately eight-fold, from roughly 100,000 to 800,000. And that’s just for three such entities.

But that could all be about to change.

Taking the Next Steps

Although the repeal of the tax penalty has just begun to take place, 2019 Christian health plan changes mean that the membership growth and the retention rates for faith-based health plans will likely fall, as a major incentive for enrollment will vanish.

What exactly does that mean for you?

It could mean that an individual health insurance plan will provide you with a more expanded range of benefits, for roughly the same cost, or possibly even less than what you’re paying right now for coverage.

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