Enrollment in healthcare sharing ministries is growing as more people look for cheaper health insurance, ways around the Obamacare individual mandate that’s in place until 2019 and state oversight, Politico reported.
The faith-based plans — which don’t guarantee they’ll cover medical bills — require that members don’t smoke or use drugs and doesn’t cover injuries that result from behaviors considered immoral, such as drunk driving, the outlet reported.
But they’ve taken hold in the healthcare system, growing from about 150,000 individuals eight years ago to more than 1.1 million members now, Politico reported.
“People are desperately looking for options,” Christine McPike, president of the Nebraska Association of Health Underwriters, told Politico. “That’s why these ministries have a foothold in the market.”
Without insurance commissioners tracking complaints or a paperwork trail of lawsuits, reports of denied claims are largely anecdotal.
“If you’re a sick person you wouldn’t view this as a good option,” Gary Claxton, an insurance expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Politico. “It’s mostly people who think they can wait or are willing to take the gamble.”
Still, the plans are taking hold.
Charlotte, N.C., insurance firm owner Billy Jordan told Politico that as plans dropped out of the market, leaving Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina as the only option in most parts of the state, premiums went up by double digits year after year, and Obamacare became a tough sell.
His business is booming, however, because he’s shifted almost entirely to selling coverage offered by healthcare sharing ministries, enrolling nearly 500 individuals.
“It’s like a snowball coming downhill,” he told Politico. “People are starting to wake up to it.”
As far are the religious requirements, standards vary, Politico reported. Some plans require that a pastor validate that the applicant is a member in good standing of a church. Others only require members to sign a form attesting to a shared set of beliefs.
“If you are going to take a person that is practicing a religion of [Hinduism], that person, if they are going to become a member of Medi-Share, they are going to have to lie,” Kelly Fristoe, an insurance broker in Wichita Falls, Texas, told Politico. “I know that’s happening. They still become a member because they want some form of protection and they want to be exempt from the penalty.”
The boom might take a hit next year, Politico reported: As part of the GOP overhaul of the tax code, the individual mandate penalty is eliminated starting in 2019.
“I think with the mandate gone the sharing ministries start to lose momentum,” Claxton told Politico.