About Healthcare Sharing Ministries
The Short Answer: Healthcare sharing ministries (HSMs) are non-profit organizations that have created a mechanism for sharing health care costs among members who have common ethical or religious beliefs. An HSM does not offer health insurance. Rather, they offer to share healthcare expense among members as they are able. They do not accept risk, make no guarantees and do not purchase reinsurance policies. Some 30 states have passed safe harbor laws distinguishing HSMs from health insurance organizations. Some of the larger HSMs include Christian Healthcare Ministries (established around 1981), Medi-Share (1993), Samaritan Ministries (1994), Liberty HealthShare (1998), United Refuah HealthShare (2014), and new entrants MCS Medical Cost Sharing, Altrua HealthShare, and Freedom HealthShare. The costs of membership are generally much less than individual or family insurance plans but members are not eligible for a Health Savings Account.
Most HSMs are oriented toward practicing Christians and are aligned with biblical principles. Generally this means that members believe they have a responsibility to assist in meeting each other’s needs. HSMs commonly reference the New Testament (NIV) to support this thesis of their ministries. One common reference is the book of Galatians Chapter 6, Verse 2. Here the Apostle Paul writes “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Another common reference is the New Testament (NIV) Book of Acts Chapter 2 verses 44–45 which reads: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possession to give to anyone who had need.”
According to the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, more than 1 million Americans participated in HSMs as of February 2019, sharing more than $670 million in medical bills annually.
Most HSMs tend to have restrictions such as abstaining from extramarital sex, excessive drinking, and use of tobacco or illegal drugs. They usually require members to make a statement of belief, as well. For instance, Samaritan Ministries requires a statement of Christian faith including belief in the triune God and divinity of Jesus; Liberty HealthShare and Freedom HealthShare are more inclusive, accepting members with a wide variety of religious and ethical beliefs. United Refuah is the first and only Jewish HSM. All such HSMs require that members subscribe to the principles of individual responsibility for their own health and of helping others in need.