Alternative to traditional health insurance comes with big savings, big risks

Medi-Share is one of several healthcare sharing programs in the United States.

Clark and Kristen Campbell consider their son to be a blessing, but right before Reid was born, they were worried as they watched their healthcare costs skyrocket.

"Our healthcare premiums went from in the $700/month range in January 2016 to over $1000 and then he was born at the end of the month," Clark Campbell told NewsChannel 9. "We were like, 'We can't afford this. There's no way! We're going to have to give up a car. We're going to have to move.'"

Desperate to save money, the small business owner reached out on Facebook, looking for a more affordable option.

"Someone recommended one of the Christian healthcare sharing networks," said Campbell.

The Campbells ditched their traditional insurance and signed up for Medi-Share.

"All we had to do is say we believe that Jesus is God's son - that we're Christians, that we don't smoke, and that we don't do illegal drugs," Campbell said.

Medi-Share representative Michael Gardner describes the organization as "an alternative solution for people's healthcare."

He says thousands of people in the United States are moving away from traditional insurance and turning to the healthcare sharing program.

There are 9,918 Medi-Share members that live in Tennnessee and 19,719 that live in Georgia.

"One of the main differences is that it's based upon direct member-to-member sharing so I know each month I'm going to be contributing funds into my sharing account and those funds are going to be used for other members healthcare bills," said Gardner.

Clark says it's amazing to know the money he pays for his own healthcare is helping out someone else.

"Usually, we get an email with the name of the family - not their full name, but part of their name - that says, 'You've helped Tom and Trisha and they're thankful for your blessing,'" said Campbell.

On top of that, the Campbells are saving thousands of dollars a year.

"Our premiums went from, we expected to be, close to $1300 down to less than $400/month with similar benefits - not exact benefits - but very similar benefits," said Campbell.

The benefits are different because Medi-Share isn't technically insurance.

It's a non-profit health sharing ministry, one of several in the country exempted from Obamacare regulations.

None of them are required to provide the same level of coverage as traditional insurance providers. Routine check-ups, for example, aren't included in Medi-Share plans.

"The idea is that Medi-Share is a very low-cost solution so I can take some of the money I'm saving and I can use it to plan for those types of things," said Gardner.

These non-profits aren't regulated: there's no oversight on the state level, so critics say members can't bring complaints to their insurance commissioner if their bills aren't paid.

But Gardner says even for serious illnesses - like cancer and organ transplants - Medi-Share is reliable.

"We've had individual needs of more than $1 million dollars each, so our members have really helped to lift significant healthcare burdens for people over the years," said Gardner.

The Campbells say even though they may not have the protections they're used to, so far, they have no regrets.

"It's been a little more than a year and we've saved a lot of money, we've helped families and we've had coverage for our family," said Campbell.

Some of the most popular healthcare sharing programs do require you to be Christian, but there are ministries that accept members of all faiths.

However, they do ask applicants to agree to honor a specific statement of beliefs or standards.

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