Yes, that’s right! In our little family, we have absolutely no medical insurance. And yet we sleep like babies at night, confident that we’ll be able to address whatever medical bills might come our way.
(I mean no, we don’t actually sleep like babies. But that’s more because of the babies and nothing to do with our healthcare situation.)
The secret is our cost-sharing ministry; we’re members of Samaritan Ministries. Since joining a year and a half ago, I have absolutely fallen in love with this model and I have shared eagerly about it with anyone who has been willing to listen. It’s a totally refreshing perspective on what is usually a very humdrum part of life. Moreover, I have been astounded to learn how much more some of my fully-insured friends are paying for their coverage – both on a month-to-month basis and when actual medical needs arise – than we are.
What is A Cost-Sharing Ministry/What is Samaritan?
To put it succinctly (and I will refer you to their very thorough site for all the details), Samaritan is a network of Christian households who all pay each other’s medical expenses rather than using insurance companies. Each member or household owes a certain fixed amount each month (a reasonable rate, compared to the cost of insurance) and that money is directed to pay for whatever needs have arisen among the body of members. It is organized very smoothly and everyone is taken care of.
Members do not send our money to a central pool; instead, the main role of the folks at Samaritan is to tell us each month where to send our money, and we just send our check to that person or family in need. That person in need directly paid his doctor, and now we are directly reimbursing him. No middle man.
As members, we are “cash-pay” patients; when we see a doctor or go to the ER, we simply state that we don’t have insurance and will be paying out of pocket, and we go from there. We know that, should the cost of any health issue or incident rise above a certain amount ($300), it will be submitted to the network as a “Need” to be “Shared” among all the members, and we will be reimbursed for anything over that $300.*
Why did we choose to do this crazy thing?
Tomorrow I will get into further, practical detail to explain how the process of “submitting a Need” works, as well as some other thoughts.
For now, let me break down the reasons why this works for us and why we love it.
Samaritan Ministries is Affordable.
When The Artist and I made the choice that he would leave his teaching position at the excellent school where he was furnished with comfortable benefits in order to
be a starving artist pursue his studies, we knew that we would need a new plan for paying the ole bills. After a friend told us about Samaritan and what a great experience his family was having with it, it didn’t take us long to get interested in – and then excited about – this idea. We joined just before our plan at his old work ended.
Now, I am no expert on how typical insurance works. But I hear loved ones talking about yearly plans and premiums and deductibles and monthly rates… and at the end of the day, they often have no idea what they’ll be paying for a given month or year, and often they’re not even sure if they’re covered for all contingencies. With Samaritan, we have one, reasonable, fixed price we pay each month, and that is all. The only surprise we get is if the rate for that month happens to be lower, which has happened a couple times while we’ve been members.
As good as our insurance was with his old job, let it be noted that we paid more for Finnabee’s birth at that time than we would have had we been insurance-free as Samaritan members. (!)
For Peabodee’s prenatal care, home birth, and post-partum care (all at an excellent standard), we ended up paying $0. Yes, you read that correctly. I will explain in tomorrow’s post with more details, but just hang on to that figure: $0.
We feel Secure.
Samaritan consists of 50,000 households. There is a lot of strength in those numbers. With every member household being prepared to send a certain amount every month, each member is covered for any “Need” up to $250,000.
In addition, there is an option to agree to set aside an additional amount each month for a catastrophic event, and this program is called Save to Share. By participating in Save to Share, we’re covered for virtually any event that we might encounter.
We are confident, relying on the Christian responsibility of the members, that whatever comes up — from an ear infection to a year-long stay in the hospital — we will be able to pay the bills.
Samaritan Integrates our Health Care with our Faith Life
Before hearing about Samaritan, it honestly had not occurred how much health care could be integrated with my Faith, except to the extent that there are certain procedures or medical practices I might object to on a Faith-based level.
It has been edifying to see how our whole approach to health care can shift when we know that we’ll be asking our Christian brethren to foot our bills. In effect, we are taking responsibility not only of our co-pays and our “patient portions,” but also our every doctor’s visit; the whole bill for any care. And we are doing so with trust in God’s people.
It’s a reminder that our health is in God’s hands as much as anything else. We should be praying about anything that we’re suffering and praying for others as well. When members send their monthly checks to each other, we’re encouraged to send along notes as well, offering support and comfort to the members who are in need that month. And prayer is the cornerstone of the whole operation. So we don’t just send a check to Mr. Joe Smith who had a knee operation; we also remember him in our prayers all month and pray, specifically, for his knee! It’s powerful to be in a network of people who are doing this for one another.
Imagine calling up your insurance company to talk to them about a bill from a provider, and, after a very brief wait, talking to a calm, friendly person who addresses all your needs completely, refers to you and your loved ones by name, and then ends the (exquisitely peaceful) phone call with a prayer for the health of the person on whose behalf you’re calling.
Hard to believe, perhaps, but that is my experience when calling up the Samaritan offices. I’m not calling up a stranger in an insurance office; I’m calling a brother or sister in Christ.
We Love Samaritan’s Philosophy
Being part of this Ministry is a very practical way to live out some things we care about and believe in deeply: personal responsibility, love for neighbor, and the principle of subsidiarity. Samaritan encourages relying on one another as Christians rather than on insurance companies and/or the State. And it’s smart: in theory we know that the medical industry is wildly inefficient and bloated, and here we have a way to combat that, simply by carrying out our regular health care business in an alternative way.
Because the members are “cash-pay” patients, we have an incentive to seek the lowest-cost care and to negotiate bills. Most providers and hospitals have programs in place to offer discounts for non-insured patients, and we seek those out. Whereas when I had insurance I glanced over my bills just to find out how much I owed as my “patient portion,” I now want to know exactly where the money is going and for what purposes. As I get more accustomed to all of this, I’m becoming a smarter health customer rather than a helpless patient. The more that individuals are able to take control of their health care choices this way, the more we chip away at the staggering waste in the medical industry.
Back before employers began offering health benefits as a way to get around wage freezes at the time of WWII, there was more of this kind of thing: community institutions that would provide security that families couldn’t always get on their own. I love that we are tapping back into that kind of service in the 21st century.
Samaritan is an Ethical Alternative to Obamacare
It brings us considerable peace knowing that our money does not go towards the coverage of abortion, abortifacient drugs, or even contraception, which we wouldn’t have been able to say about any plan we would have had to buy through the government exchanges. Samaritan members are legally exempt from the Affordable Care Act, so we get to sidestep all of that. Because of the pledges that every Samaritan member makes (e.g., to drink only in moderation; to abstain from any sexual activity outside of a Biblical marriage, etc.), and because the system is so transparent, we know exactly what we’re paying for (and not paying for) every month.
When the time to file taxes came around this year, we simply filled out a short, additional form that indicated that we are part of a cost-sharing ministry, and bada-bang, bada-boom, we’re Obamacare-Free.
We have More Flexibility
Since we don’t have insurance, we are not bound to any insurance company’s network. We can pick and choose as to doctors and practices – my only limitation for choosing a doctor, frankly, is how far I’m willing to drive! We hear about, for example, a member who knows he needs a certain operation being able to look all around the country, and even internationally, to find the best price for that operation. (This factor could actually be a source of authentic reform in the medical system, because it forces a market to emerge where market influences are otherwise stifled by insurance cartels. It’s pretty awesome.)
I was initially intimidated by the idea of walking into an office and declaring myself to be uninsured, but I’ve found that it is actually quite freeing. I no longer feel that I’m just a number on a chart, being pushed through a practice’s system in order for them to check off their boxes; I seek out what care I want, and I can also decline care that I don’t – I’m paying for it, after all! Of course you can do this as an insured patient as well, but the mental shift that I’ve experienced as a Samaritan member has been empowering.
As you may have guessed, I am a Samaritan Enthusiast. In tomorrow’s post I will try to spell out the nitty-gritty of how the process works. I’ll also do my best to answer questions in the comment section as well!
*See tomorrow’s post for more details. Short story: if you can get your costs negotiated down, you don’t have to even pay that full initial $300. And if you’re having a rough year and have already submitted three Needs, the fourth Need (and any following) within the same 12-month period will be fully covered, including that first $300. In other words, unexpected/accident-related health care costs aren’t going to cost you more than $900 in a given 12-month period.
Full Disclosure: I am not receiving any kind of payment nor compensation from Samaritan Ministries nor any associated party. I’m just a true believer in this model and would love to see it spread! There are other cost-sharing ministries out there, so I’d say check them all out and see if any of them would work for you!
That being said, if you do decide to look into Samaritan and end up choosing to become a member, we would be very appreciative if you mention our names (John and Deirdre Folley) as referring members when it comes time to fill out your start-up forms: we would receive a credit on our monthly share that would be a great help to us, especially while The Artist is in training!