The Buzz

The Obamacare Alternative More Americans Are Turning To

Deirdre Folley is one of more than 600,000 people nationwide who is considered uninsured.

Yet when her daughter suffered a hairline fracture in her leg, requiring visits to an urgent care center, radiologist, and orthopedist, Folley and her family didn’t end up paying anything for the cost of her care even though charges totaled nearly $1,400.

That’s because Folley and her family of four are members of Samaritan Ministries, a health care sharing ministry with members who “share” in the cost of one another’s medical expenses.

Folley, who lives in New Hampshire, is one of the more than 184,000 members of Samaritan Ministries, a Christian-based organization that is one of the three major health care sharing ministries.

Nationwide, membership in health care sharing organizations tops 600,000 people, according to the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries.

Folley, who has blogged about her experiences with Samaritan Ministries, first joined the health care sharing organization in April 2014.

Folley’s family was previously insured through her husband’s employer, but after the couple decided her husband would go back to school, they knew they would have to explore other health care options.

“In our situation, leaving a job, going into being a student and a homemaker and not having any type of benefits, either you’re going to be left out in the cold or you’re going to be doing something like this,” she told The Daily Signal. “Of course, now it’s illegal to be out in the cold, and we knew we weren’t interested in Obamacare.”

A friend of Folley’s husband originally told them about Samaritan Ministries, and when they began to research the organization, the couple was pleased with what they found.

Health care sharing ministries facilitate the sharing of medical costs between members, all of whom have shared beliefs.

The ministries don’t serve as insurance, but rather when a member has a medical “need,” other members “share” that person’s medical costs.

In some ministries, like Samaritan, members are encouraged to negotiate prices directly with providers to bring down the cost of their medical bills, like Folley did, and they pay in cash before being reimbursed by members of the health care sharing ministry.

For Folley, one of the most attractive parts of the health care sharing ministry was the fact that the organizations are exempt from Obamacare’s individual mandate, so members aren’t subject to the annual fine for going uninsured.

Folley said she and her husband are opposed to socialized medicine and didn’t have confidence in the government’s ability to manage their health care.

But most importantly, because health care sharing organizations are exempt from the requirements the Affordable Care Act places on insurance policies, Folley said it protected her and her husband, who are devout Catholics, from crossing any ethical boundaries.

“We didn’t want to buy into a plan where we were most likely going to be paying for abortions or not knowing whether or not we were paying for abortions,” she said, continuing:

With Samaritan, we know we don’t pay for anyone’s abortions, we don’t pay for contraception, we don’t pay for sex changes or counseling for things we would object to. We know that our money isn’t taking part in anything that we have a moral objection to.

An ‘Alternative’:

Health care sharing organizations have existed for more than 20 years, but membership has grown substantially since Obamacare’s first open enrollment period launched in October 2013.

Samaritan Ministries, of which Folley is a member, has seen its enrollment nearly triple in that time.

In January 2013, the organization had 64,721 members. By January 2016, its membership had grown to 184,247 members, according to the organization.

Christ Medicus Foundation’s CURO, a Catholic health care sharing ministry that partners with Samaritan, launched in 2014 and has grown to have 900 member households, comprised of more than 2,500 individual members, the organization estimates.

Similarly, enrollment in Medi-Share, another health care sharing ministry, more than tripled.

Medi-Share had 59,855 members in June 2013, according to the organization. By June 2016, the health care sharing ministry boasted 200,333 members.

Anthony Hopp, vice president of external relations for Samaritan Ministries, said 2013—when Obamacare’s exchanges launched—was a “pivotal year” for membership growth.

“The Affordable Care Act increased awareness of health care sharing ministries in general,” Hopp told The Daily Signal. “We pretty much collectively, all of the health care sharing organizations, were off the radar for the most part. Then, with the insertion of the exemption, a lot of news outlets picked this up, and whether we wanted to be or not, we were kind of thrust into everybody’s minds.”

The ministries are expecting to see their enrollment continue to grow, particularly as issues continue to arise with the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s lower cost. It’s personal accountability. It lets you see everything you’re doing and the decisions you’re making,” Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, told The Daily Signal of the organizations.

Health care sharing ministries are adamant in that their organizations are not insurance, but rather serve as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act.