How to Qualify for the Health Care Sharing Ministry Exemption
Joining a health care sharing ministry is a popular alternative to health insurance for people who could benefit from a like-minded Christian community that shares medical expenses among themselves.
There are many reasons to choose an alternative to health insurance to meet your health-related needs. High monthly costs is one major factor; insufficient coverage for your conditions and needs is another; moral objections to health insurance coverage of certain types of medical procedures is yet another.
The healthcare system can be difficult to navigate, and for many people who have experienced layoffs or otherwise do not receive employer-sponsored coverage, faith in the health insurance industry may be dwindling.
For some, it’s simply a matter of principle or morals. Receiving a medical bill in the mail and realizing a for-profit insurance company only covered a small fraction of the cost can make it feel like no one is really looking out for you.
Finding a supportive community that shares with each other to help other members pay for healthcare costs can be appealing to many. However, questions about becoming a member of a non-profit healthsharing ministry might come up, particularly around any potential penalties for opting out of health insurance plans.
Is There a Penalty for Opting Out of Health Insurance?
In 2014, Americans were penalized with a fee for not having health insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act. These fines totaled in the hundreds of dollars per person. The only way around this was by showing proof that the individual qualified for an exemption, which included certain religious objections.
The Tax Cut and Jobs Act repealed this penalty by setting the amount to $0 in 2019, so taxpayers in the United States no longer have to provide documentation showing they have health coverage when tax season rolls around. However, Congress could reinstate this penalty at any time. Further, some states including Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont still require their residents to show proof of health insurance when filing their state tax returns.
If you reside in any of these states, or in Washington, D.C., you can avoid paying a state fine by joining a healthcare sharing ministry. A Christian health-sharing community is not health insurance. It offers programs to members who voluntarily contribute a monetary amount each month that is shared with fellow members’ to pay for medical costs.
Under the United States' “safe harbor” regulations, a healthcare sharing ministry that meets the stated requirements, can operate without having to comply with state insurance laws, such as those that mandate certain coverages and premium rate requirements.
This means that suggested monthly contributions to healthsharing ministries will often be less than monthly health insurance premiums.
How to Qualify for an Exemption
In states such as California that still enforce an individual mandate penalty, residents must be covered by a health plan for at least nine months out of the year prior to filing their state tax return to avoid the penalty. However, members of a healthcare sharing ministry are approved as exempt from this penalty.
To qualify for an exemption, you can provide proof of your Christian healthshare ministry membership, such as an enrollment certificate or card, when submitting state tax returns. It’s worth noting that payments made toward your healthcare expenses throughout the year must come directly from the Christian healthsharing ministry you have joined.
Additionally, some institutions, such as colleges and universities, may require full-time students to show proof of health insurance before living on campus. However, young adults paying for school may not be able to afford health insurance, or their parents’ insurance may utilize a network that doesn’t include providers near the school.
Requirements vary by state and school, but many accept a healthsharing membership in lieu of health insurance. A healthsharing program designed for young adults, such as Liberty Rise, can be ideal for situations such as this. This can be helpful for students who are on a tight budget.
Some members of Christian healthshares may be offered employer-sponsored health insurance and wonder if they can remain a member of the sharing community. This is perfectly acceptable, especially for those who want to help their community by contributing to a common cause and belief system. When obtaining medical service, they would use their insurance as the primary payor and their healthsharing ministry as a secondary source through member sharing.
How Liberty HealthShare Can Help
If you are looking for an affordable alternative to health insurance, a Christian healthsharing ministry might be right for you. These organizations use a “voluntary sharing” model, meaning members of the organization voluntarily share each other’s medical expenses. The ministry facilitates that sharing.
The purpose of membership is to help lift the burden of expensive medical costs while adhering to biblical values. While these programs are not insurance, they are recognized as a legitimate way to give and receive assistance in times of need.
Liberty HealthShare offers members freedom from insurance while empowering one another to support each other not only financially, but also in prayer and encouragement. If you’re interested in joining our Christian healthsharing ministry, explore our programs or contact us today.