A semi-truck and a double-decker bus have been colliding in my mind, over and over, the past few days. The semi truck represents the thrifty side of me. The double-decker bus represents the cautious side of me, specifically when it comes to matters of my family. Normally these two vehicles run side by side, because most of the time saving money means I am looking to secure a more stable future for my family. However, this time, when pondering my options for family health insurance, the vehicles are on a collision course.
My family situation
A baby girl is on the way (our first!) in June, and my wife (Alli) is ending her employment to stay home for the foreseeable future. Health insurance was a non-issue beforehand because both Alli and I were offered insurance with our jobs. It is definitely an issue now. Adding Allison and any children to my current employer-based, high deductible plan is 950 more dollars per month, out of pocket. I actually cringed when I typed that.
Alli and I sat down and crunched our future monthly budget numbers with this in mind. We squeezed the numbers into a monthly budget like my thighs into a pair of skinny jeans (try a pair on some time and you’ll understand the illustration…). We grudgingly set our numbers and are prepared for the crunch to happen next September when the insurance change will occur. We know that we can do it and we feel very secure if any medical cost comes up. This represents the cautious vehicle of the collision – the double-decker bus.
An alternative? I’ll bite
Security is great, but…the $950 was stuck on me like that same pair of skinny jeans (good luck getting out of them). I began the process of looking at health insurance plans. One alternative that kept coming to my attention from friends and online sources was medical cost-sharing. It is not insurance, but medical cost-sharing is supposed to function in the same way. Most of these cost-sharing organizations are Christian-based, non-profit organizations that are gaining popularity now that premiums and deductibles seem to be increasing by leaps and bounds.
From what I have gathered, these organizations are able to keep plans affordable by minimizing overhead costs and being selective in who and what is covered. When I say affordable, one plan I am currently looking into would provide Alli and the little tyke access into a sharing plan for $250 per month, with an annual deductible of $2500.
The term “sharing” is used because medical expenses are directly shared with others. To play out a scenario, I would pitch in my “share” each month (effectively a premium) and it would go directly to pay for someone else’s medical bill in Whoknowswhere, Alabama. When we would have a medical bill arise, we'd share this cost with the community plan and we would be the benefactors of others’ monthly share. Some cost sharing ministries like Samaritan Ministries actually have members write a personal check to another person! Others, like Medi-Share, have members sign up with a specific credit union so money can transfer from account to account and account to medical providers directly.
Beep…beep…mental scam alert meter…
After being scammed into thinking I won a car a few years ago, I am super suspicious of anything that seems like a good deal for me. And when the arena we’re talking about is family health, I don’t want risk anywhere near! Hence, this is the semi-truck of my illustration. It saves a lot of cash, but brings up a lot—I mean a lot—of questions. Here are a few that I had, with the answers I have, thus far.
- Does this pass for having insurance according to the mandate of the Affordable Care Act? It is lawful alternative.
- Do I have to negotiate my own medical bills? With some plans it is encouraged, with others it is not emphasized.
- Will my doctor know what this is? Anecdotal evidence is mixed. I’m still gathering evidence as to how this would work in my neck of the woods. Some plans boast of a network called the Private Healthcare System (PCHS) that gives members a variety of medical providers.
- Will the other people come through? There’s a lack of accountability by the law, but I have yet to find a story of somebody not pitching in their amount when they are supposed to. The organizations obviously know this is a concern so have safeguards in place.
- What are situations where I can be hung out to dry? I’m looking for testimonials detailing negative experiences, and they are admittedly hard to find.
As I dig deeper, what other questions should I be asking? What experiences do you have in medical cost-sharing? Do I have to wear skinny jeans?