An in-depth and honest review of Samaritan Ministries; the health sharing Christian ministry we’ve used for our health care expenses for several years!

Update: We’ve been members of Samaritan Ministries for over 6 years now and we continue to believe that it’s the best option for Christian families, especially those on one income or self-employed, looking for affordable sharing options for health needs.

Original Post from 2013, all information still relevant. Remember to read Part 2! Link at the end of this post:

Just a few months ago, in December, we dropped our traditional health insurance and joined the Samaritan Ministries Christian health sharing group.

Here’s why we did that:

  • Our premium costs were increasing rapidly, even though we had a high-deductible plan and HSA (health savings account).
  • We’re not big fans of the new health-care legislation, because it doesn’t allow insurance companies to manage their risks, which will make costs much, much higher down the road. Plus it’s too much big government for our comfort.
  • Our maternity deductible became separated from our regular deductible, so we had to pay quite a bit extra per month in our premium plus another deductible before any maternity benefits kicked in. Not cool.

So, after quite a bit of time in prayer and research, we took the plunge and switched to Samaritan Ministries.

It cut our monthly premium in half, plus the maternity benefit went right along with it, no separate charges.

(Update 2019: Based on what we could have gotten this year for self-employed individual policies through regular insurance companies, our Samaritan Ministries premium now saves us over $1,000 per month).

Basically, Samaritan Ministries  is a Biblical, non-insurance approach to health care needs.

You can see more details about how the medical sharing process works on their website, but basically it comes down to us paying a certain month’s share for another family’s medical needs. This is our “premium” and it is sent directly to the family, just as other families share our needs by sending their “premium” to us once our need is published (shared with the members).

There are certain medical conditions that are not covered or have limited coverage. I’d encourage you to closely read the guidelines.

Here are some things we really like about our experience with Samaritan Ministries so far:

  • Our medical needs are shared among Christians. Those who sign up for SM are held to a high level of accountability.
  • Precautions are taken to make sure that each family sends their monthly shares in a timely manner to the family to whom they are assigned.
  • Needs that are not covered are still processed as “special prayer needs”. Each month, we have a suggested special prayer need in addition to the monthly share we pay. We can give money towards that need if desired, as can a number of other families. We’ve done that each month (the suggested amount is $20) and it can really help someone who would not otherwise be able to publish their need.
  • The monthly share cost (aka the premium) is very manageable for our family. We are at the highest tier and pay $355 per month, but it does not increase after this, no matter how many more children we add to our family. If the needs are becoming greater than the shares for more than 2 months in a row, the members may be asked to vote on whether to increase the monthly share across the board.
  • We pay the first $300 for each medical expense that is over that amount, for up to 3 medical expenses per year. Beginning with the fourth $300+ medical expense, it is covered in full. (This means that if your child is in the ER for croup and then has a related second exam and the grand total is $700, those two visits are processed under the same need and you would only pay the first $300.)
  • We like knowing that people are praying for us and for our family’s needs and the notes we’ve received with the shares paid to us so far have been very encouraging.
  • We like knowing how we can pray for others!

Now, here are the slight downsides that we’ve discovered about this type of medical sharing ministry. I don’t want to come across sounding negative, but it’s something to keep in mind.

  • Each medical need under $300 must be paid for in full by us. So, if you’re used to only paying a $20 co-pay at the doctor’s office each time, be aware that you’ll need to pay for those things yourself. (Remember, though, you’re paying for that $20 “convenience” through your high premiums with traditional insurance anyway.) This would include such needs as checkups, well-child exams, dental or eye exams that are non-injury related. With our previous high-deductible plan, we paid out of pocket for these types of visits anyway, so it didn’t affect us. On the plus side, it makes you think before running out to the doctor unnecessarily.
  • Doctor’s offices may be less willing to give discounts for non-covered patients. If you join Samaritan Ministries, you will be considered self-pay, which means you may have to pay the full cost of services, verses the discount that some insurance providers negotiate with hospitals. In our area we only have one large hospital within a 90 mile radius and so they don’t have to negotiate with self-pay patients because there is no competition. Therefore, we have to pay in full for most appointments and were only able to negotiate a 10 percent discount for our current maternity expenses. Which brings me to my biggest negative…

Because we were not able to negotiate a large discount for this pregnancy, we still had a very big bill for our maternity expenses. Only if we paid out of pocket in two weeks would we be able to secure a small 10% discount.

So we ponied up and paid the bill (it wasn’t even the whole bill, because it didn’t include the ultrasound or newborn stay in the hospital). We sent our need into Samaritan Ministries, express mail, so we could get it in before the end of the month, therefore getting our shares from the members faster to pay ourselves back for what we took out of our savings account.

However, upon receipt of our letter in May, we found out our need had been prorated along with the other members that submitted needs for this month.

This happens when the amount of needs exceeds the amount of share money available. Needless to say, I wasn’t pleased. We were aware that this could happen, but were disappointed that it happened so quickly and for such a large need (for both of the needs we submitted, actually!). This left us with a large amount of money still missing from our savings account, because we had taken it out in good faith that it would be paid back.

The way they handle this is to process the rest of your need the next month, but they weren’t sure they would be able to do that this time. When my husband called, they also mentioned that they’ve never seen a publishable need go unfulfilled, but until I see that money, it’s not something I just take their word for.

I don’t want this to sound frustrated or angry, because it’s not the way we feel. We know God can most definitely provide for our needs, exceedingly and abundantly beyond what we ask or think (Eph. 3:20-21), but it is frustrating, being that part of the reason we became members of Samaritan Ministries was to see God meet our needs in this type of manner as we pursued a biblical alternative to traditional insurance.

That’s where we’re at right now. We are going to stay with them, because we believe in the mission and purpose of Samaritan Ministries and are still convinced it is the best route to take as far as providing for medical needs. It’s just important to be aware of all the pros and cons of a non-traditional approach such as this! I’ll keep you updated as to how this turns out!

click here

Do you belong to Samaritan Ministries or another medical sharing group? If any of you have any personal experiences to share, I’d welcome them in the comments!

**P.S. If you ever decide to join Samaritan Ministries, and don’t have another friend who has referred you, we’d love if you’d mention that you heard it from us {Kirk & Jennifer Thorson}! We do get a small credit on a monthly share for referring other members, which you can do too if others join after your suggestion :)

Please ask any questions you have as well, if you’re thinking about changing the way you take care of your family’s medical costs.

CURIOUS HOW THINGS TURNED OUT FOR US? Read my update to learn the surprising conclusion to our story!

photo: Kiatying-Angsulee,


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26 Comments on The Positives and {Slight} Negatives of Our First Experience with Samaritan Ministries

  1. We have been a part of Samaritans for 5+ years. I feel bad about how much they pay for, $8k this year alone, we had a home birth and an ER visit for me (pneumonia) . The ER visit was 3 hours, one pill, and a cat scan. That’ll be $4k please. (discounted of course from $12k)……I think we were also pro rated one time.

  2. Hello,
    Thank you for sharing your experience. My husband just changed jobs and we are now in charge of our own insurance – the cost of individual insurance plans is STAGGERING. We are going to Samaritans Ministry out of necessity. I was with them before and had the same experience you did with large medical bills – we had a need and they couldn’t cover it all, and it ate into our savings account. My biggest concern is that we want to have a baby and I am scared of the medical bills. This will be my first and I have no idea how pregnancy/delivery will go. I have lots of questions about this:
    1. How much money should I save to cover having a baby? I don’t want to assume that everything will go perfectly and we’ll have a “cheap” delivery.
    2. Did you find that you were treated differently because you were self-pay, or that your care in the hospital was not as good? I have heard people say that the care they received was better when they had a trusted insurance plan, and that even the Doctors and nurses bedside manner was different.
    3. Would you recommend having an HSA to help with the out-of-pocket expenses?

    • Hi Rachel! Thank you for your comment and for sharing your experience as well! As far as your questions I will do my best to answer them!
      1. For pregnancy, it is treated as a normal expense that would cap at $300. So, I paid $300 total for my pregnancy *once all the shares were sent to us*. However, before that time, we had to pay out of pocket an estimated cost to the hospital at a 10% cash discount. It was $18,000. We basically emptied out our savings account, knowing we would get it back. HOWEVER, don’t let that number freak you out. Most hospitals allow cash patients to pay a small monthly payment. You may not get a discount if you make monthly payments (but you might–I’d encourage you to talk to your hospital’s patient care advocate), but that will not matter because once your shares come in from Samaritan Ministries, it will cover the whole amount (less $300). I was nervous about this part when our expenses were pro-rated at first, but it ended up working out because the hospital gave us some of our money back because the estimate of costs was too high. Also, Samaritan told us that even if we hadn’t gotten our money back, the pro-rata fund would have covered the difference that had initially been pro-rated. So essentially we would have gotten back all but $300 of what we paid for the pregnancy and delivery either way :) So, if I were you, I would save obviously the $300 and then perhaps a few thousand dollars so you can make the monthly payments while you wait for your shares to arrive. If you contact Samaritan, they can give you more details and help you work out a plan!

      2. I did not find we were treated differently at all. We had an amazing experience! It seems odd that people would say that. Your doctor doesn’t know what kind of insurance you are/aren’t on (the billing office only knows that, and because of HIPAA they can’t share that information unless you openly tell your doctor), so there is no bias that way.

      3. Yes, I would recommend having an HSA type account. However, at this time you can’t use an “official” HSA (tax deductible) to bank money unless you have traditional insurance. They are still petitioning Congress to allow HSAs for medical sharing groups :) Meanwhile, my husband and I put aside an amount of money each month into a separate savings account that can only be used for medical expenses. So that’s our homemade HSA, haha.

      I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have further questions! I’m thinking of putting together a “user guide” for Samaritan Ministries–so many people have had questions!

      Blessings to you as you seek God’s will for your lives! Merry Christmas!

  3. thanks for the posts on sharing. i have a couple pre existing conditions for my back. none of these sharing ministries will pay for this so everything is out of pocket (i’m on medishare but praying to see of changing to smi). gee it seems to me that they could look into sharing a small percentage of pre exiting to help the families who dont have the extra income for out of pocket.

    • Hi Joanne, I just saw your comment now. There is a way that members of Samaritan can submit needs that are pre-existing. They are considered special prayer needs and I am not sure if you need to fill out a special form for that or not. So while many pre-existing conditions are not “covered” under SMI, we members receive notification that there is a special prayer need and have the opportunity to contribute extra on top of our monthly “premium” toward that need. There is probably a bit more information about that on their website, hope that helps!

  4. Jenn, was wondering if your bills were covered by Samaritan yet? I’ve been talking to them and researching as we are planning to join Samaritan in a few weeks. I was told that May and June prorates had enough funding to pay them out and the guy I spoke with seemed to think they already had been sent, or would be shortly. Have you gotten yours? Looking for an update. Thanks!

    • Hi Heather,

      The last time we spoke to someone from SMI, they told us that there is money in the “pro-rata” fund to help pay the rest of our bill. However, we have to wait until baby is born and we get the final bill before we can submit the remainder of the cost to SMI (assuming there will be more costs, and we can’t know until baby comes I guess!).

      So hopefully this will end up working out! The only way we’ll be assured of that is when we are able to receive the missing funds. Thank you for checking on that, and I will try to remember to give a final update once we know :)

      • I’m also curious… Were you ever reimbursed for the full cost? I’m guessing that the remaining would be less than the co-pay/co-insurance of a traditional insurance plan. It’s good to know that the possibility exists though. I’m about to mail in my application.

        • Hi Liz! Thanks for reminding me about this! We actually were refunded part of what we paid to the hospital out of pocket because they overestimated the amount we had to pay. Because of that, we didn’t need to utilize the pro-rata fund from Samaritan Ministries–praise the Lord! They did tell us that there was enough money to cover any additional expenses and at this point, we’re choosing to trust that it would have been covered if we needed it :) Definitely go for it, it has been the best option we could have chosen. If you feel led, you can mention our names as a referral, Kirk & Jennifer Thorson.

  5. We have looked into MediShare, which is a similar ministry. We ended up being able to get fairly low-cost insurance through work though, but we are keeping it in mind for the future.

    • I’ve heard of MediShare but don’t know much about it. It’s great that you were able to work out good insurance through work! I wonder how the affordability will change once this new legislation goes into effect?

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve heard about this but knew so little. I really appriciate your honest insights. I think we’ll look into it.

  7. Thank you for sharing this info. We’ve been looking at different options ourselves and don’t know anyone who uses these groups.

  8. I have several friends and family who are considering this option, and I will forward them the link to this post. It’s always good to get personal insights from someone on the plan.
    Thanks for sharing these for others.

  9. I love that you shared the pros AND cons because I think it’s good for people to hear both and weigh them before they make a decision.

    We have a pretty high deductible and so we usually have to pay a lot of stuff out of pocket and never reach our deductible. This year due to my kidney stone and re-injuring my back again (and the resultant two months of physical therapy) we met the deductible.

    Of course, that means that it was all out of pocket in the beginning. But now I feel like HEY! I can go to the doctor anytime, lol! (O.k., just kidding, haha)

    Also just popping by to say that the new “Making Your Home Sing Monday” linky party is live and ready for your posts!

  10. We had kept the idea of Samaritan Ministries in the back of our minds for years — it’s an intriguing way of doing things, which is what one likes to think of when it comes to Christianity.

    However, because we are no longer attending a church, we’re ineligible. While it’s understandable why S.M. wants church membership — presuming that church members will live a “better” life than non-church goers — there are an increasing number of Christians, like us, who are being marginalized out of the system, and are therefore unable to join their brothers and sisters in this novel approach to healthcare.

    I hope that you get the full payment that you felt that you were promised, and that S.M. lives up to its reputation as a Christian organization committed to doing things the unusual, God-centered way.

    • We are not great church attenders, but I belong to a vast network of Christian brothers and sisters…I called Samaritan Ministries and they were perfectly fine with a signature from my boss who runs a Home School ISP and is a member of S.M. as well. They are wonderful people there and want to work with you. Just give them a call.

  11. Our needs were prorated also but I did not know that you could call and ask for some help on their end. I may have to do that! Thanks for the tip, since we are in such a tough financial situation right now.

  12. We also have a high deductible insurance with HSA. If you don’t mind me asking, what happened to the HSA when you switched? Were you able to keep the balance that was in the account?

    • Yes, when we switched we were able to keep the HSA account, but it is now no longer a tax deductible contribution as it was previously when combined with a high deductible health plan. There is some legislation going through Congress where they may allow you to have a tax-deductible HSA if you’re part of a medical sharing group like SM, but I’m not sure how long that will take to be talked about or what will happen. :) We’re keeping our HSA account in the meantime and that’s what we pay our medical bills from, keeping those charges separate from our regular account. Hope that helps!

  13. We have been with SMI for several years and LOVE it! Our need was prorated with our daughter’s birth but over the course of the next couple months we received our amount in full.

    As money for the prorated needs came in, I got a call from one of the staff checking in on us and seeing if we still needed the remaining amount. Others who were in better financial positions (we were paying off school loans) were able to just say “don’t worry about it.” [He never made me feel I should say that, just shared it because it was exciting to see God work.] I LOVE being part of a group of Christians that care about each other and the incentive that we have to be healthy not just for our own sake but that of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Like you said, discounts really depend on the area. There’s lots of competition here. When my brother (also with SMI) went in to get an MRI, the insurance cost was over $1000. Self-pay up-front was under $500!

    • I’m so glad to hear that, Anna! Gives me great encouragement as we wait :) I wish we could get such a good discount too for being self-pay. Some friends of ours that are on it get a 40% discount for all their charges. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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