Growing cost-sharing ministry faces consumer complaints – News – Akron Beacon JournalAugust 25, 2019
JACKSON TWP. — In 2018, Liberty HealthShare distributed more than $300 million to help members pay medical bills.
The operation, which organized in 2014, has grown because members see it as an answer to government requirements — since canceled by President Donald Trump — that they carry health insurance.
Liberty HealthShare isn’t a health insurance company. It’s a Christian ministry that shares money members have provided to help them pay bills.
Over the past two years, however, some members are complaining that bills aren’t being addressed quickly or even paid, leaving them hounded by collectors.
More than 30 complaints have been filed this year with the Ohio attorney general’s office and the Ohio Department of Insurance. A string of complaints can be found on the Better Business Bureau’s website, while poor reviews and complaints also show up on several social media sites.
Larry Foster, chief executive officer of Liberty HealthShare, said during an interview in June the complaints were being addressed.
He cited the operation’s rapid growth along with problems generated by new computer systems and software as factors contributing to reimbursement issues.
“It will be a blip on the radar six months down the road,” Foster said.
The concept of health sharing predates modern health insurance plans and is rooted in biblical scripture. Groups have cited Galatians and the Gospel of John in the New Testament. The idea is for Christians to help each other and share their burdens.
Foster said modern health share services started in the 1990s. He said the idea grew from an incident in which a pastor and his family were involved in a serious motor vehicle accident. People around the country heard of the pastor’s problem paying medical bills, and some began sending money. The bills were paid within 45 days.
The concept evolved from there. Health share members pay a set amount each month, comparable to a monthly premium. When a member faces a medical expense, it either is paid by Liberty or the member pays the cost and seeks a reimbursement.
Liberty’s website lists the share amount for singles at $299 per month, couples at $399 and a family at $529. People younger than 30 pay $50 per month less. Bills are paid after members pass the annual “unshared” amount, comparable to a deductible, of $1,000 for an individual, $1,750 for a couple, and $2,250 for a family.
It takes two months to become a full-fledged member. Foster said that if a member suffers an accident or needs emergency treatment, they can share from the start. Otherwise, members must wait 60 days before they can share costs for routine treatment.
Of the money paid to Liberty, no more than 12% is used to cover administrative costs, Foster said. The remainder is shared among members to cover health bills.
Liberty’s job is to facilitate the sharing and to help members protect their sharing power, Foster said. “Everything that comes in to share goes out,” he said.