Oklahoma families find healthcare alternative through ministry-based plan
OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) —
Getting health insurance through work now costs nearly $20,000.
The Kaiser Family Foundation finds each worker contributes a little more than $5,500. Families without insurance offered through work are, in many cases, paying much more. We've got your back with an alternative that thousands of Oklahoma families are turning to for a safety net and big savings as premiums rise.
The Gauthier family doesn't pay a monthly health insurance premium. The family of six doesn't actually have insurance. Instead, Joseph and Beth get a statement each month telling them who needs their $495 and where to send it.
The Gauthiers are among the nearly 6,000 Oklahomans relying on Samaritan Ministries. That's one of a number of Christian healthcare sharing ministries in the U.S. that pool and redistribute members' money each month.
"They not only share in the financial need, but the connection allows members to pray for each other, send cards and notes of encouragement, and to support each other as well," said Samaritan Ministries spokesman Anthony Hopp,
Since Beth and Joseph signed up six years ago, they've used Samaritan to pay for Joseph's knee surgery and three of Beth's pregnancies. She was already pregnant with her first child when they signed up, and they quickly learned these health sharing plans don't cover preexisting conditions.
"At the time we were going to do a home birth," said Joseph. "If we had done it, they would've paid a majority of it. But we had to go to the hospital, and it ended up being $12,000 out of pocket. It was crushing."
Joseph has also learned how to negotiate cash prices with healthcare providers. With a big enough discount, Samaritan waives his $300 deductible. It usually takes around three months to get a check in the mail from another member.
"So every time we do something, we are in the hole because we pay it out of pocket," said Joseph. "So when the money does come in, it's a relief."
What works for the Gauthiers isn't right for everyone.
"If you've got chronic conditions and you need ongoing maintenance, this may not be the right thing for you," said health insurance broker, Florence Goins. "They all have very specific rules and guidelines that you have to agree to abide by before they even let you have a plan."
Those rules vary, but most involve living a healthy lifestyle — no smoking or excessive drinking. And you must profess certain Christian beliefs. Some plans require your church pastor to sign off.
Health sharing plans aren't regulated, there's no contract and no guarantee they'll cover any medical bills. They don't typically cover preventive health or prescriptions. And they won't cover birth control or abortion.
Goins said, "People that have taken good care of themselves that are financially responsible, that want more control over their healthcare, they can be a great fit."
That control is what the Gautiers appreciate. It's an option away from the big business of insurance companies. They believe engaged patients make better decisions.
"In my mind, it's the way healthcare should be," said Joseph. "Rather than a money-making scheme."
Hopp said, "I believe, in a way, our members are helping to reform healthcare at a grassroots level."
Some health care ministries have been around for 30 years, and they all work a little differently. If you're thinking of switching to one, it's a good idea to chat with a broker who can help you look at all the options and help you decide if one is a good fit for you.