Thursday, October 29, 2009

Anyone Have Any Experience With Something Called Medi-Share?

Anyone Have Any Experience With Something Called Medi-Share?

At first glance, it looks like some sort of mutual health insurance company, or a health co-op (I think). But there's an explicitly Christian nature to it:

A. Bringing Believers Together

Medi-Share is a program of Christian Care Ministry, Inc., a Florida not for profit corporation that is recognized as tax exempt under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) (“Christian Care Ministry” or “CCM”). Medi-Share brings believers together to share the blessings God has bestowed on them according to the example of Scripture and the early Christian Church. CCM matches a Member's Eligible Medical Bill(s) (as defined in Section II.) with Members who have volunteered, in faith, to share in the payment of medical bills through the biblical concept of Christian mutual sharing. These Guidelines specify the medical expenses that will be published for sharing to Members and explain how sharing may be accomplished on behalf of a Member in need.

I'm at first hard pressed to see a fundamental difference between what the early Christian Church did (holding everything in common) and this same approach with respect to health care.

I am always a bit suspicious when someone puts a Christian face on fundamentally a business, since it is such an effective way to take advantage of naive and trusting people, so I am curious to hear what anyone with experience with Medi-Share has to say.

UPDATE: Curious. There is some sort of legal squabble going on in Kentucky about Medi-Share not being an insurance company, with the Department of Insurance upset--but this 2008 article in Insurance Journal also reports: "Vicki Glass, spokeswoman for the Kentucky attorney general's office, said her office has investigated no complaints."

A group called Physicians for a National Health Plan is upset because Medi-Share's model is to exclude non-Christians (and Christians with serious pre-existing health conditions)--but they don't seem to have any specific criticisms of whether Medi-Share's uninsurance program actually works.

This October 25, 2005 Washington Post article discusses Medi-Share and two other similar faith-based expense sharing plans, and gives a bit more detail about how they work:

Although church plans differ, their basic premise is simple: Members send a monthly check -- a "share" -- ranging from $200 to $400, either to the plan or directly to those the plan designates with "needs," as medical bills are known. They also agree to send cards and letters or to pray for those in need; in some cases the names and addresses of those in need, along with a brief description of their medical problems, are published in a monthly newsletter.

No Guarantees

While Medi-Share has many of the characteristics of insurance -- including annual deductibles, a medical advisory board, the practice of negotiating discounts from hospitals and a requirement that non-emergency treatment be approved -- Reinhold insists it is not insurance and therefore is exempt from state regulation.

Medi-Share, he said, is a voluntary arrangement between like-minded people to share medical expenses according to rules they devise, in fulfillment of the New Testament exhortation that Christians should bear each other's burdens.

"There are no reserves and there is no guarantee a need will be paid," Reinhold said. Insurance, he added, requires a contractual transfer of risk in exchange for payment.

While one of the other Christian health plans apparently had a problem with management running wild with the money (including hiring a stripper?)--and is now under new management--there seem to have been few complaints against Medi-Share or Samaritan.

They keep costs under control both by excluding those with "Tobacco use, immoderate drinking, homosexuality and extramarital sex" and expelling those found, but also with a not too shocking form of cost control:

One way Medi-Share controls costs is by requiring its members to seek approval by telephone before non-emergency treatment, or pay $250 to the plan. Callers are routed to a medical panel headed by John E. Evans, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Vicksburg, Miss., who also sits on Medi-Share's 55-member board of overseers.

"Members are asked to give us the information we need to determine whether care will be covered, Evans said. The goal, he said, is to steer subscribers to the most appropriate treatments.

In some cases Evans's suggestions, published in Medi-Share newsletters, have been unconventional and do not include medications or surgery.

Recently he suggested that Larry McFall, a middle-aged runner with a torn meniscus, do stretching exercises to avoid surgery recommended by an orthopedic surgeon. McFall wrote that the treatment worked and noted that the advice "saved the $6,000 cost of my surgery and physical therapy" and spared him "possible infection and other side effects of surgery."

This blogger, ChristianPF points out some risks:

One of my biggest concerns was that I would be facing a huge medical bill and that the members would just decide not to “share” with me to cover it. After talking to the Medi-Share representative, it sounds like that isn’t much of a concern if you follow the rules. She explained that in the last 16 years every eligible need has been covered. But “eligible” is the key word here.

For example, she told me a story of a member who was in a bad car accident requiring lots of medical work, but since the person was intoxicated when they got into the accident, the expense was not covered by Medi-Share. On one hand I think you should give the guy a break, but at the same time it is the strict rules and policies that make the program work. The whole point is that by living a Biblical lifestyle you will be healthier, therefore have fewer medical expenses.

It seems like the program is perfect for healthy Christians who are committed to the Biblical lifestyle. If you already have many health conditions or are prone to lapses into substance abuse, it probably wouldn’t be worth it.

I would like to think that someone who was going to sign up for this (which requires your pastor to write a letter about your Christian witness) isn't going to be backsliding. But I also know that there are way, way too many people who are attending church regularly, think of themselves as good Christians--and yet, end up in adulterous affairs which give them STDs, or have substance abuse problems.

This discussion,
which seems to be among insurance agents, points out:
Some conditions, particularly those related to STD, mental illness or substance abuse may not be covered. If a woman is pregnant & her life is in danger the plan will not pay to terminate the pregnancy.
I would worry about the mental illness aspects of this. Unfortunately, there are Christians who are convinced that mental illness really doesn't exist, and you would want to verify with Medi-Share what level of reimbursement they are going to be providing if a family member has some sort of mental illness problem.

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