In response to our November-issue article Bridging the Gap: Covering What Medicare Doesn’t Pay, a reader asked for a follow-up piece on “using a Christian health sharing plan as a supplement to Medicare.” We’re happy to oblige.

For those unfamiliar with such ministries, here’s a quick summary from our 2014 article, Healthcare-Sharing Ministries: A Christian Alternative To Health Insurance.

[These] ministries, the first of which began more than 30 years ago, don't provide "insurance." Instead, inspired by the biblical instruction to "carry each other's burdens" (Galatians 6:2), all members of a healthcare-sharing ministry pay a monthly "share" amount (similar to an insurance premium). Those members with eligible health-related expenses receive money from other members' shares….

To join a healthcare-sharing ministry, you must agree in writing to its statement of faith…. Each healthcare-sharing ministry makes clear that certain costs are not eligible for sharing, including abortion-related expenses and treatment related to substance abuse. For some, knowing their "share" money will help provide for the needs of other Christians and will not support practices contrary to their faith, are important draws.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, membership in healthcare-sharing ministries has skyrocketed — from 200,000 members to nearly 1 million — in part because the ACA exempts members of sharing ministries from the law's requirement either to buy health insurance or pay a fine.

The question at hand

So, can you turn to a healthcare-sharing ministry to help cover the cost of medical bills that Medicare doesn’t pay? The answer is yes.

One ministry, Medi-Share, even offers a specific sharing option ("Senior Assist") for people who are signed up for Medicare Parts A and B. Members can "share" the portion of any eligible medical bills that Medicare allows but doesn't pay completely, including copayments and deductibles, as well as unpaid charges for hospitalization and skilled nursing facility (SNF) care. Common questions about Medi-Share's Senior Assist are answered here.

Samaritan Ministries doesn’t offer a specific option for those with Medicare, but it does provide guidance here (in Q&A format) on how a Samaritan membership can interact with Medicare coverage.

Like Samaritan, Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM) doesn't have a particular sharing program for seniors. CHM has a general Q&A here on the interaction of healthcare sharing and Medicare, noting that "if you’re Medicare age but choose not to participate in Medicare, CHM can only share the amount of your eligible Medicare bills that Medicare would not have paid." In other words, you cannot use a healthcare-sharing membership as Medicare substitute, only as a Medicare adjunct.

In a recent blog post on this topic, Liberty Healthshare says its members on Medicare "should treat Medicare as their primary coverage. Once a particular bill has been sent to and processed by Medicare, if there is a remaining balance, the member can then submit the bill to Liberty along with a copy of the Medicare Explanation of Benefits. We will then process any eligible remaining cost according to our Sharing Guidelines."

Tell us about your experience

Unfortunately, it's impossible to do a general cost-comparison between healthcare sharing and the other options available for covering charges that Medicare doesn't pay. There are too many variables, including a person's general health condition.

So if you have Medicare and are also a member of healthcare-sharing ministry, we want to hear about your decision-making process.

Did you decide you would come out ahead using health sharing rather than paying for a Medigap policy? Or perhaps that it was more cost effective to go with a Medicare Advantage policy and turn to health sharing to cover out of pocket costs?

Or maybe you went in a different direction and decided to discontinue your sharing-ministry membership when you became eligible for Medicare.

Whatever your choice, let us know what you did and why. Many of your fellow SMI'ers would be interested in what you have to say.

Please "Join the Discussion" below.