Important Things to Know About Faith-Based Medical Plans
Faith-based health care is a religious-oriented alternative to standard health care. Health care sharing ministries offer faith-based plans that operate with exemption from the mandates of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — alternatively known as Obamacare.
Faith-based plans do not function as insurance policies. Instead, faith-based plans operate as health care sharing among large groups of people, wherein each member pays a monthly premium. When one of the members becomes ill or needs treatment for an injury, his or her contributions cover the expenses, in conjunction with the collective input of fellow members. As such, the premiums are lower in comparison to those of traditional health care. Christian health ministries typically administer these faith-based plans.
The law does not require faith-based plans to accommodate the 10 essential health benefits as stipulated under the ACA. As such, members of faith-based plans have long been exempt from the recently overturned individual-mandate penalty that had been a subject of controversy with private plans since the 2010 passage of the ACA.
Users of faith-based plans are not eligible for health savings accounts, which are designed for high-deductible health plans.
The Requirements for Becoming a Member
Christian health ministries function as alternatives to the ACA for U.S. citizens who seek exemptions on religious grounds from select clauses of the Affordable Care Act. However, certain provisions of the ACA still apply. As required by the ACA, a faith-based medical plan must distribute funds among members regardless of state residence. Moreover, the ACA also requires faith-based providers to submit to audits, the results of which are available to the public.
Here are the requirements for joining a faith-based health plan.
- Common beliefs: To qualify for a faith-based medical plan, you need to adhere to a shared set of beliefs. Health care sharing ministries differ in the strictness of their requirements, but since these plans are faith-based, you generally must adhere to the basic principles of the faith in question. To that end, plans of this nature do not cover certain procedures that go against faith-based doctrine. In addition, such policies do not cover injuries that stem from behaviors prohibited among members.
- Proof of faith: Of course, the behavior requirements for membership depend on the faith in question. Christian health care ministries will generally require you to sign an oath of your devotion to your faith. To verify that you practice what you preach, some of these providers will ask you to name the church you attend and contact that church to verify whether you are, in fact, a regular attendee.
For other faith-based plans, the requirements consist of little more than an agreement on key principles that are common among people of all faiths. As such, it is possible for non-Christians to qualify for some faith-based plans.
Under a faith-based health care plan, members cannot lose coverage based on medical conditions. If you develop a condition while enrolled in a program, you cannot be disqualified on the grounds of the condition in question. However, you can be dis-enrolled if you fail to pay your premiums.
You can get disqualified from a faith-based plan for certain religious beliefs. For example, if you apply to one of the Christian health care sharing ministries, you probably will not be accepted for the plan if you profess allegiance to a fringe religious cult.
What Does a Faith-Based Health Care Plan Cover?
Christian health care sharing ministries and like-minded programs cover the costs of hospital care, prescription medicine, emergency operations and medical tests vital to the health, mobility and survival of faith-adhering members. As such, a faith-based policy will generally cover costs that stem from the following conditions and needs.
- Acute injuries: A faith-based health care plan will cover hospital and medical costs that stem from acute injuries. Examples of acute injuries include sprained wrists, dislocated shoulders, pulled muscles and sprained ankles. Acute injuries are typically the result of singular traumatic force and often occur during outdoor and sporting activities. Jobs that involve manual labor can also pose risk factors that may result in acute injuries.
- Illness: Faith-based health care plans cover both rare and common sicknesses. For members who come down with cold and flu symptoms during winter months, the coverage will pay for medical treatment and prescription medication.
- Physical therapy: Faith-based plans offer coverage for physical therapy. If you incur an injury that leaves you bed-ridden and immobile for a period, the coverage will pay for the manual therapy that ultimately helps you regain movement and full or partial use of your upper and/or lower extremities.
- Maternity costs. Health care ministries cherish the gift of life. In support of motherhood and the tradition of childbearing, faith-based policies cover maternity costs. For uninsured mothers, prenatal expenses can be astronomical. Health care ministries support expecting members by covering prenatal and birthing costs.
- Ambulance travel: An ambulance ride can be costly for an uninsured party. If you suffer an accident or conditional bout that requires immediate hospital care, a faith-based policy will cover the cost of the ambulance ride.
- Hospital stays: Faith-based plans cover hospital stays, including times in the emergency room. If you suffer an injury or surgery and need to undergo inpatient treatment for any length of time, your membership in a faith-based plan will cover the costs of your stay.
- Injury-related dental and vision care. If you incur an optical or dental injury in the course of an accident, a faith-based plan will cover the costs of your eye and tooth care. As long as the accident did not result from activities of a morally questionable nature — drunk driving, illicit drug use, etc. — the coverage will help you regain full or partial vision and two complete rows of teeth.
- Doctor-ordered tests. If you need to undergo testing to examine an illness, a faith-based plan will cover the expenses. For example, if you start to display symptoms of an undiagnosed condition, you might need to undergo a series of scans to determine the source of the problem. Your membership in a faith-based program will pay for the X-rays, as well as the treatment and hospital care.
- Injury-related medical expenses. For the uninsured, some of the steepest health-related costs stem from accidents, the most unexpected expenses of all. If you are the victim of a hit-and-run or a vehicular or work-related injury, a faith-based plan will pay for your medical expenses in addition to any hospital stay and physical therapy that aids in your recovery.
Things Faith-Based Plans Do Not Cover
Faith-based plans are designed to provide essential coverage for the good health and physical well-being of their members, whom they expect to live faith-based lives in adherence to the principles behind such plans. As such, faith-based plans will not cover hospital costs that stem from activities they deem immoral or unessential.
- Unnecessary hospital visits: Faith-based plans provide coverage for emergency and ongoing hospital care for accidental injuries and symptoms that stem from illnesses and developing conditions, as well as maternity costs. Faith-based plans do not, however, provide coverage for non-emergencies and unnecessary visits to the hospital.
- Cosmetic surgery: Faith-based coverage is for essential care, not vanity. As such, these programs do not cover procedures of a purely cosmetic nature. As a member of a faith-based program, you don’t have to worry about the plan allocating any of your money toward lip injections or breast augmentation.
- Fertility treatment: In adherence to faith-based principles and the preservation of the two-parent family unit, faith-based plans do not cover artificial forms of conception. Single women will not be able to use the program to get inseminated with donor sperm.
- Transportation for checkups: Faith-based coverage cannot pay for transportation to and from the hospital for routine, non-emergency visits. However, members can decide to carpool and form networks with designated vehicles and drivers for those who lack transportation or who are otherwise unable to drive.
- Weight-loss treatment: Even though health care ministries generally encourage dietary and physical health among members, members of the plan cannot use it to cover weight-loss treatment.
- Routine eye and dental care: Faith-based plans will not cover regular eye and dental care, such as annual or biannual dental checkups and vision tests. Unless the costs stem from accident-related injuries, you would need to get separate coverage from another source for dental and eye care.
- Psychological and psychiatric care: Faith-based plans will not cover routine psychiatric appointments or treatment for emotional issues such as personal depression.
- Care for injuries from risky and illegal activities: Health care sharing ministries expect their members to live sensible lives and refrain from illegal activity. In keeping with these principles, faith-based policies will not cover medical expenses that stem from illegal acts — drunk driving, drug overdoses, fistfights, shootouts, botched robberies, etc. — or extreme sports.
- Abortion: For obvious reasons, faith-based medical plans do not cover the controversial practice of abortion. This clause — which gives pro-life policyholders the peace of mind in knowing the money they put into a faith-based program will not be used to fund abortion or pregnancy-termination pills — has been one of the key attractions among people who have sought alternatives to the ACA.
What Are the Advantages of Faith-Based Health Plans?
Health care sharing ministries offer their members many benefits.
- Affordability: One of the most considerable advantages of faith-based health care sharing is the affordability of such plans. Unlike the premiums associated with the ACA, which are prone to fluctuate in an unstable market, faith-based care is supported by members and shared among those in need of prescription medicines and operations. On a faith-based plan, you are unlikely to invest tens of thousands of dollars into coverage you might rarely, if ever, use because the cost to maintain a membership is low in comparison to regular health care. As such, members ultimately use the money that goes into a faith-based plan wisely among themselves, and does not get wasted disproportionately by insurers and pharmaceuticals.
- Ability to keep your health provider: Another major advantage of faith-based care is that it allows members to retain the doctors they choose. One much-debated element of the ACA is that some people who enrolled ended up having to switch doctors. On a faith-based plan, the integrity of your established patient/doctor ties remains intact. The ability to see a doctor of choice is an essential concern for most people because of the trust issues at stake. For the patient who has relied on a certain doctor for many years for treatments and critical health advice, the freedom to maintain that relationship in spite of a coverage change is fundamental to the American way of life.
- No individual mandate penalty: Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the ACA was the individual mandate penalty, which people had to pay if they opted to retain their pre-existing non-ACA plan and that plan did not meet the minimum essential coverage rules. The individual mandate has not been an issue for members of faith-based plans, which exempt members from this aspect of the ACA. Though the sweeping GOP tax bill passed under President Trump essentially eliminated the individual mandate, the penalty will still be in effect up through 2018 for non-faith/non-ACA compliant policyholders. The penalty is 5 percent of household income beyond filing thresholds or $695 for the tax year of 2018, whichever is higher. As such, members of faith-based plans have long saved in this regard.
- Conscience-based health care: For people with strong religious convictions, faith-based health care ministries allow members to pay into plans in good conscience. With a Christian plan, for example, you do not have to worry whether any portion of funds will go toward procedures you might deem objectionable as a practicing Mormon, Catholic or Protestant. For example, if your faith teaches abortion is morally wrong, you can pay into a faith-based plan and have peace of mind that the ministry will not allocate your money toward that procedure. Most faith-based plans also do not allow funds for pregnancy termination — including morning-after pills — and gender-reassignment surgery.
- A sense of community: In addition to the clarity of conscience factor, faith-based health care also allows members to feel a stronger sense of community. A regular, non-faith coverage plan only provides financial support. With a faith-based plan, you have the emotional support of like-minded members and a ministry that cares. The communal sense of health care can be crucial for members who are undergoing treatment for life-threatening diseases. The communal factor can make such policies especially comforting for single and older adults. Regardless of any condition you might develop, the ministry will give you emotional and physical care in addition to financial support.
Faith-Based Coverage From Aliera
For people seeking a faith-based coverage plan, Aliera Health Care has become a popular choice. Aliera offers coverage at low rates with exemptions from ACA requirements. As such, members are free from the rules associated with the ACA.
Legally classified as a Health Care Share Ministry, Aliera is one of the few of its kind that welcomes applicants of any religious faith who are committed to good health. Moreover, Aliera eliminates the confusing paperwork associated with other faith-based policies by paying directly to care providers as needs arise from a member-supported pool of funds.
The two most popular of the five Aliera plans are AlieraCare and CarePlus Advantage. Contact us today to get a quote for Aliera.