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‘Uber for health care’ helps Nevadans escape Obamacare

There’s an Uber for health care, and it’s helping thousands of Nevadans escape Obamacare.

It’s called health sharing, and there are several options available for those seeking an alternative to Obamacare’s soaring premiums and deductibles.

“All the quotes we got on a catastrophic health savings account, it was going to be like $1,100 a month plus whatever we put in the HSA,” said Kevin Prince, a Las Vegas small-business owner.

His family joined Samaritan Ministries, a health-sharing group. “Our friends told us about health-share accounts. For our whole family, it’s $500 (a month). Anything below $300, we pay. Otherwise, we can submit it as a need.”

This is how health sharing looks and functions like traditional insurance. Households pay a set monthly amount based on factors like household size and ages of enrollees. That figure is called a “share amount,” not a premium. As with a deductible, once medical bills cross a certain threshold, families submit the bills for “sharing.”

Samaritan Ministries tells families where to send their monthly share amounts. For instance, if a family has a $10,000 medical bill, they’ll receive dozens of personal checks from other members “sharing” in their cost. Medi-Share, a health-sharing group with 300,000 members, including 1,358 Nevadans, functions more like traditional insurance. Members submit their monthly share amounts to the organization, and Medi-Share directs where the money goes.

“We’re kind of like Uber for health care,” said Michael Gardner, director of communications for Medi-Share. “We’re connecting members in need with members who can share. We basically just facilitate that.”

The sharing concept isn’t just a marketing gimmick. Members see it as a practical way to follow the biblical command to “bear one another’s burdens.” Families learn the names of those whose bills they’re paying, which leads to prayers for their recovery.

“Folks in our program take their motivation from a model we see in the early (Christian) church, Gardner said. “Taking care of one another’s burdens is a great way to operate.”

Membership is limited to those who hold certain beliefs in common. Medi-Share and Samaritan Ministries are Christian organizations. Liberty Health Share, with more than 2,000 members in Nevada, offers an option for those who more generally agree with Judeo-Christian values.

While the concept isn’t widely known, the organizations are well-established. Medi-Share has “shared” more than $1.3 billion in medical costs since its founding in 1993. That includes costs for members with Stage 4 cancer and million-dollar bills for neonatal care.

These aren’t insurance companies.

Samaritan Ministries, for instance, won’t accept as a member someone who uses tobacco or abuses prescription drugs. Medi-Share won’t cover prescriptions that last longer than six months. There are limits on those with pre-existing conditions.

However, participation in a health-sharing group provides an exemption from Obamacare’s individual mandate.

Reduced coverage equals lower monthly bills. It’s a tradeoff participating families prefer.

It’s the type of customization that insurers can’t offer because of Obamacare’s one-size-fits-all requirements.

Too bad. Customization from Uber-like disrupters is what the health insurance market desperately needs.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Nevada section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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