This past year our family made a huge leap of faith and canceled our health insurance. Before you jump to the conclusion that we have been very foolish, let me explain.
I have been raised in a family that fortunately has always had a good health care plan. I don't remember ever having to think about it growing up. I was current on all my vaccinations, went to the doctor when needed, visited the dentist twice a year, wore braces for 2 years, all without a thought or care of who covered the costs involved. Right out of college I got a job with National Car Rental. I had wonderful benefits, this being in the mid-80's there was basically 100% coverage and no deductible. I remember feeling a little put off when I had to start paying a $10 copay each time I visited the doctor's office. When Chris was born, all my medical expenses were covered in full. The biggest decision I had to make was which plan to go with since there were 3 or 4 options to choose from. Twenty-five years ago I started going to our neighborhood clinic where all 4 of my children have received their health care needs. I know the people there and it feels comfortable.
When Kyle was born I made the decision to quit my job of 12 years and be a stay home Mom. The hardest part of that decision for Drew and I was losing the benefits of my health insurance. Even though it was a leap of faith, we did have cobra coverage for the first 18 months (although at a much higher rate). When our 18 months was just coming to an end, Drew's employer started offering health insurance for the first time in 50 years. We were so excited! The excitement soon ended when we realized that the insurances this small company could offer were nothing compared to what I had from a large national company. We struggled along for a while and finally started looking independently. We found a very competitive insurance through a friend of ours. Insurance options had changed over the years and we chose a plan that had a high deductible but would still cover us for anything big. We rarely went to the doctor so this was a good fit for our growing family. The monthly fee was relatively low and we were able to stay with our same clinic and hospital that we had always had.
Life went on and we really didn't think much of our insurance, it was just another bill to pay each month. The first few years the rates did not change much but then we started seeing a trend of large increases every spring. This past spring our insurance again jumped and we realized it was almost twice what it had been when we originally signed up years ago. This wasn't because we overused it, we hardly used it at all. It was just a sign of our times of ever increasing insurance fees. I know most of you have experienced this same thing. If you haven't, count yourself blessed. I'm not very political and I know health care issues are a huge source of debate. What I do know is that something needed to change in our house in order for us to meet the needs of our family. I didn't trust someone in Washington DC to make a change for us - they don't even know us.
A year earlier I had heard from a friend about a Christian Health Sharing program called Samaritan Ministries International. The idea is that the members bear one anothers health care burdens by praying, encouraging and sharing the cost of needs. I remember being very intrigued by the idea but thinking it was too radical, mostly because all I knew was my comfortable HMO. I read through all the literature and testimonials but lacked the faith to go for it. Drew and I just went on paying our ever increasing health premium because that seemed safer.
This past spring as we were planning our upcoming trip to Africa, trying to find ways to cut costs in our expenses, I was reminded of SMI. I dug out the information and started praying for direction. Finally it just became obvious we needed to jump in with both feet when our insurance premium jumped up another $100/month. I'm so thankful we got the kick in the pants to go for it. What a pleasant surprise it has been. SMI is based on the Biblical principles of believers in Jesus Christ meeting the needs of other believers by sharing their burdens. I'm simplifying it but if you want all the details please go to their website and learn more. (www.samaritanministries.org). Each month we receive a newsletter with a prayer directory of members with a need. There are about 18,000 members at this time. Each member is assigned a family to "share" their need - our family gives $320 a month towards another family's need. This is half of what our premium was on our HMO. Along with our share, we send a card and lift up a prayer for whatever need is posted. There are lots of new babies coming so many times it's just a praise and prayer for a healthy delivery. The newletter also gives ideas on cutting costs if you have an upcoming surgery or other alternative medicines that may be helpful in different circumstances. SMI does not tell you what to do, they trust that you will make the wisest decision and be good stewards with the money God has provided. The process to join is pretty thorough too, so I feel confident that it's a safe alternative. I have been so impressed with the whole process and wish that more people knew of this. I know there are other similar ministries out there that are good, I can only speak from my experience with SMI.
Last month, Levi fell on a garden stake and cut his neck open. We rushed to Mercy Hospital, into their critical care unit without a thought of how it would be covered. The care we got there was amazing and it all worked out well. After the cat scan showed that the stake missed Levi's trachea by only 1/4 inch, all they had to do was sew it up. I asked for a discount since we would be paying in cash and found that it was quite a large discount. When a need is posted, SMI asks that you pay the first $300 and the members will share the rest of the fees. Since I did the calling and asking for the cash discount, they took our $300 off of the discount. The original bill just for the emergency room was over $1800 but after the discount we only owed $777! The other bills also gave discounts, mostly about 15%. What a blessing to not have to pay any of this and have people praying for us.
One of the things that has struck me over the months that we have had SMI is how stuck I am in my old way of doing things. I've "always" gone to the same clinic and it had never occurred to go elsewhere. I feel like I have so much freedom now with SMI but I'm trapped only by my old way of thinking. Kind of like an animal that has always lived in a fenced in area, one day the fence comes down and the animal doesn't even notice but continues living the same as always. I encourage you to think outside the box when it comes to your families health care needs and check out the SMI website for more information. Another cool thing about SMI is that we are no longer funding "choice" problems: health problems caused by drugs, alcohol, smoking and SMI does not fund abortions or other things that are contrary to our beliefs. I'm thankful to be partnered with a program that honors all life and strives to give glory to God!