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More than 1 million North Carolina adults do not have health insurance, and families are finding that the costs of coverage exceed their budget – but they have a growing number of options from a different source.
There are now a variety of health-sharing ministries dedicated to helping North Carolina residents pay their medical bills.
WRAL spoke to multiple families, including Mark and Caroline Collie, who use these programs to help pay for their health insurance.
Through their membership with Samaritan Ministries, the Collie family pays a shared to the organization one month during the year, and also make 11 monthly payments directly to other members who have medical needs.
"We have had an amazing experience with them through a number of pregnancies," Mark Collie told WRAL in a Jan. 20 article. "Every cent of our need we've received in shares from the health care sharing community."
There are no deductibles and out-of-pocket payments cover costs that are less than what they pay into the system each month. For those times when costs are higher, Samaritan Ministries considers whether that need should be shared with other members, and the other members help to pick up the tab if the organization deems it necessary.
Financial requests are capped at $250,000, however, there is a higher-level program.
There are risks to participating in a health sharing ministry, and some say that they’ve been misled about how the program works, WRAL reports.
Several states have investigations underway involving health sharing ministries, but Samaritan Ministries is not under investigation, WRAL reported.
In North Carolina, Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey said his office has had 12 complaints about health-sharing plans and does receive calls from consumers who want more information.
"I'm not opposed to health care-sharing ministries," Causey told WRAL. "I believe in the free market, so it is an option, but you don't want people to be fooled into thinking they are insured."
Health shares are not insurance because there’s no guarantee that claims will be paid, and there are no actuaries, Causey said.
"These are probably not going to pay for preventative care, physical exams," he added. "They may not pay for any prescription drugs, and a medical claim is only what that group deems is a medical claim."
Causey said it's is time for the North Carolina State Legislature to regulate health-sharing programs.