Increasing number of people choosing faith-based ministries for health coverage: 5 things to know

Rather than purchase traditional insurance, more people are paying for their medical expenses by turning to faith-based groups, which don't operate within the insurance system and aren't regulated by states, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

According to the report, the groups — healthcare ministries — provide a healthcare cost-sharing arrangement among people who hold similar beliefs. Some ministries contend they cost about 30 percent less than private insurance, the report notes.

Here are five things to know about the trend.

1. The Affordable Care Act has contributed to the increasing membership in healthcare ministries, as a provision of the health law allows participants in eligible ministries to avoid fines for not purchasing insurance, according to The Wall Street Journal.

2. Ministry officials estimate there are about 500,000 ministry members nationwide. That's a significant increase from the roughly 200,000 members before the ACA was enacted in 2010, the report notes.

3. Many of the healthcare ministries across the nation are small operations of Amish or Mennonite communities, according to The Wall Street Journal. Some churches also have their own programs for parishioners only, the report notes.

4. Some insurance commissioners have voiced concern over the trend, claiming that the healthcare ministries could put consumers at risk if bills are unpaid, as they aren't regulated by states, according to The Wall Street Journal. But ministry officials claim the groups are well-managed. Additionally, the report notes, member disagreements are settled by arbitration and mediation.

5. State regulators have also voiced concerns, claiming healthcare ministries disrupt the insurance market due to their tendency to draw in healthier consumers, "siphoning them from commercial plans that can be left with sicker or older customers," according to the report.


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