Cost of Care Investigation: Sharing Your Medical Bills
Every Sunday, Pastor Gary Cox preaches the good word. And it’s his connection to God and other Christians that helps him pay big medical bills.
“Your money is going directly to help somebody else, and you know it’s a legitimate need,” Cox said.
It’s called health sharing, and it’s what Cox and his wife turned to after getting fed up with the rising cost of health insurance.
“We’ve been so raised in our culture to depend on an insurance company that makes millions of dollars off of us, which is OK. That’s why people are in business, to make money,” Cox said. “But to have a plan that meets my needs and pays the bills, and it’s more personal, and no one’s making any money off of it.”
How does it work?
Health sharing isn’t insurance or a health product, but a network of people sometimes connected by religion, who split each others medical bills.
Each group works a little differently, and Cox and his wife chose Samaritan Ministries.
With Samaritan Ministries, members are on the hook for preventative care such as checkups and dental. Cox says a self-pay visit to his general practitioner is $65 out of pocket.
Then, every month, he and his wife pay-share up to $495, a rate or amount dictated by their type of plan. That share goes directly to another member with a medical bill that’s symptom-related such as an illness or injury. Sharing starts once a need exceeds $300.
While money can be transferred to other members electronically, Cox enjoys mailing his check along with a card.
“Each month, I get a share for the month,” Cox said. “It might say, ‘Allison had surgery, or her husband, this situation. Send them a check for $463,’ and I mail them a card that says, ‘Thinking of you,’ and it goes directly to them.”
Cox adds, “Once you’ve received a few of those notes, it’s kind of nice to write that note.”
Submitting a claim
Back in 2017, Cox submitted his first big claim.
“I had a ladder mishap after Irma,” Cox said. “Had a little brain bleed, so I spent the night in the hospital.”
When it came time to pay, the hospital told Cox he owed $17,000.
But ask, and you shall receive.
“I said I’ll pay it right now if you take $8,000 and they said, ‘Of course.'” Cox said.
So Cox put the discounted rate of $8,000 on his credit card and submitted his paperwork to Samaritan.
Instead of watching his mailbox for a bill or explanation of benefits, Cox watched for 20 to 30 get well cards with checks inside from complete strangers.
“It’s kind of like getting Amazon boxes,” Cox said. “Everybody likes Amazon because you like to get a package, except all the bills were paid, and it didn’t cost us a penny.”
Samaritan Ministries is a 25-year-old nonprofit that serves a quarter of a million people, or 82,000 households.
To join, members must agree to Samaritan’s statement of faith and membership agreement. Some of the requirements include attending a Christian church regularly, abstaining from any sexual activity outside of traditional Biblical marriage as designed by God between one man and one woman and limiting one’s consumption of alcohol.
Anthony Hopp, Samaritan Ministries external relations vice president, says members share about $30 million a month.
“When people hear health care sharing, I think there’s this initial thought we’re going to pass the hat, cross our fingers and hope everybody sends,” Hop said. “In actuality, it’s a very structured process.”