How We Afford Health Care on the Road
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
When Brian and I decided to transform our lives by leaving everything behind, jumping in our 35’ motorhome and living on the road, health insurance and how we’d afford it was a HUGE concern. Both of us had great health insurance coverage through our employers and realized that by quitting our jobs, we’d lose that great coverage by the end of our first month. Our great coverage included medical, dental and vision. We researched a ton of plans, some even specific to the full-time RV community, but most were cost prohibitive for us. Afterall, we’d be living off our savings for the first year and didn’t want to spend almost $2,000 per month for medical premiums. PLUS, that $2,000 per month wouldn’t cover pre-existing conditions.
So, as we hit the road, we chose the most cost-effective route and went with COBRA insurance. If you’re not familiar with COBRA, it’s offered to you when you leave a covered employer’s plan for up to 18 months. Basically, you remain on the same plan, same coverage, etc. continuing as if you were still employed. The only kicker is that you now pay your portion and the portion the employer was paying. Hence, a significantly higher monthly premium! We decided to go this route to ensure coverage of pre-existing conditions while we’re on the road our first year!
Soon after our first year, we found we stayed relatively healthy and only saw a doctor for a sinus infection and renewal of medication. With that, we decided to go ahead and research one of the options we’d heard about originally, called Christian healthcare cost-sharing programs. There are a few out there and they’re similar in structure. Basically, a healthcare cost-sharing program is not an insurance program. Your expenses are not guaranteed to be covered, that decision is left up to the members who pay into the program. Additionally, you may not be able to claim any of your monthly payments for tax purposes. Your monthly payments are generally considered gifts and, in most cases, you must negotiate discounted cash payments, pay for services in advance and submit your bills for reimbursement. So why would you even consider joining such a program? Well, there are three main reasons! You’re relatively healthy, its affordable and you believe in helping others! In most cases there are no limits to who you choose as a provider and in some cases, pre-existing conditions can be covered. It IS a leap of faith participating in a Christian based healthcare cost-sharing program.
After researching several well-known healthcare cost-sharing programs and obtaining referrals from other full-time RV’ers who participate in these programs, we settled on Christian Healthcare Ministries. If you’re researching, be careful to get the name right as there are a couple with very similar sounding names and domains. You can check out their website for more information, or if you’re ready to apply, we’d love if you used our referral link. Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM) offers three levels of participation. We chose the highest level called “Gold” and an add-on called “Brother’s Keeper” for catastrophic medical bills. Monthly, we pay $344 to cover Brian and I on the “Gold” plan and $45 per quarter for the “Brother’s Keeper” add-on. That’s a HUGE savings from what we were paying on COBRA or with the other high-deductible plans we researched. Also interesting to note about CHM:
· CHM is a federally certified exemption to the individual mandate under the US Affordable Care Act
· The longest-serving health cost sharing ministry, CHM has served members since 1981
· The ministry is a Better Business Bureau Accredited charity
· Is the only healthcare sharing ministry mentioned on The Dave Ramsey Show.
· Generous maternity program at the Gold level (at no additional cost)
· No one is dropped or denied membership due to health conditions, nor are costs adjusted based on medical conditions or history
The key to saving on this type of healthcare cost-sharing program is to know before you go! With that I mean you should spend some time comparison shopping for healthcare services and costs, negotiate discounts for cash pricing (self-pay) and understand the payment plans your healthcare provider offers. If you’re going to the doc for a routine exam, ask for a list of all the associated charges and let them know you want the cash or self-pay price. Additionally, ask them for any “cash price” or self-pay discounts – many will offer a significant discount for this! If the visit or procedure is going to be expensive, now would be the time to discuss a payment plan. It’s important to note that since healthcare cost sharing is not an insurance plan, you will have a period of time to wait for reimbursement. Asking your healthcare provider or facility to set up a payment plan gives you time to submit your bills and receive reimbursement from CHM. Some members also have a healthcare related credit card from Care Credit. A few comparison-shopping resources include:
· www.newchoicehealth.com – a national marketplace to search procedures at self-pay rates in your local area. When asked about insurance type – use Uninsured/Self Pay.
· www.MDsave.com – a national marketplace with healthcare provider relationships. Compares all-inclusive pricing, gives the number of quality of provider reviews, bio of each doctor and what procedure each doctor offers.
· www.Healthcarebluebook.com/ui/consumerfront - A great tool for understanding pricing of many standard procedures.
· www.fmma.org/shophealth - Simply use the services section to find procedures and pricing. The Providers tab gives you a list of providers and their locations.
The key for this type of medical plan is to understand it is not an insurance plan, reimbursement is not guaranteed and you must take control of your medical expenses. If you’re relatively healthy and willing to do the upfront work and research, you can save a TON of money on monthly premiums.
For dental and vision insurance, our plan had been to obtain these services South of the border in either Algodones or Puerto Penasco, MX. Both popular with full-time RV’ers and retirees in the Southwest. That is until Covid-19 reared its ugly head. For now, we’ll hold off on the dental and eye exams in anticipation that the border will open near the end of the year. By going to Mexico, you receive care from very qualified medical professionals (many trained in the United States) at a considerable discount over what you’d pay in the States. For example, you can receive an exam and cleaning for around $20!! But that’s not all! You can receive root canals, extractions, fillings and cosmetic dental procedures there as well. Additionally, you can find some great prices on eye exams, glasses and prescriptions in Mexico.
So that’s our health insurance coverage in a nutshell. So far so good. At this point in time, we have not had to use our benefits with CHM, but we feel prepared should the need arise. In putting together this blog, I wanted to share what we’ve done to make life on the road a little more affordable. The healthcare cost-sharing program isn’t for everyone, but I feel strongly that it’s an option you should at least research. We don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of the plans and highly recommend, if you’re interested, to do your research and compare options & plans. You may be pleasantly surprised!
If you’re ready to apply, we’d love if you used our referral link: http://www.chministries.org/default.aspx?mem=499712 Thank you!!
See ya on the road!
~Shawnna & Brian
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