Medical Insurance, Stewardship, & Looking at the Bigger Picture
- By: Hallee
- 11 Comments
In my life before this one, every single day was a struggle to even breathe. Time was measured payday to payday, electric bill cut-off-notice to the day rent was due. There was no debt, no staggering credit card payments or anything. No new clothes or expensive shoes. No big screen televisions – not even a cell phone. Just a drowning lifestyle cycled around his addictions … and my work. I worked and scraped to keep us housed, clothed, and fed and did the best I could with what I had, but every day that passed made me feel more and more like I was suffocating.
It’s amazing how many mental habits get formed in a life like that. For instance, I still struggle with spending any kind of money on myself. My mind will calculate how many pounds of hamburger I could buy for the price of that candle or how many gallons of milk I could get for that new blouse. December will mark ten years since I left that life and started a new one, and yet I still battle a sense of panic when I start thinking about money and bills.
Being married to Gregg has really taught me a lot of things about handling money, spending money, and giving money. One thing that he’s always really pressed is seeing a bigger picture. How much could you save if you paid for a year in advance? What kind of discounts will companies offer? Rather than looking at a weekly or monthly budget, Gregg will look at a yearly budget, and if writing a check for 52 horseback riding lessons saves him $150 for the year, then he considers that worth the initial out-of-pocket investment.
It is important to us to be good stewards. We believe that God has given us time and resources to use for HIS purposes, not our own. The fundamental principle of not just biblical stewardship but of all Christianity, is: We own nothing. God owns everything. Everything we have, God has given to us to manage. The Bible says, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).
Where we can save, we can then turn around and give. The more frugal our lives, the more we have to help others.
Recently, Gregg handed me the task of filtering through all of the healthcare options we have. Before he went to Afghanistan, we had the military’s healthcare called Tri-Care. It cost us something around $300 per month, give or take (I can’t remember now – I’ve looked at so many numbers lately.) In addition to that $300 per month, we had to pay so much out of pocket for whatever we had done. During my high-risk pregnancy with Jeb, seeing the high-risk OB weekly from my 6-week checkup until the day Jeb was born at 36-weeks, his NICU hospital bill and my c-section hospital bill, we had to pay maybe two thousand dollars out of pocket.
When he got to Afghanistan, his National Guard status was changed to inactive status, which caused us to lose Tri-Care. Gregg looked at all of the numbers — the cost of the medical insurance his company provided versus the times we saw the doctor and our out-of-pocket expenses when we did see the doctor and made an extremely risky decision – while he was there, we would go insurance-free.
Jeb had his 1-year checkup in May, and we still had Tri-Care. Scott had his 3-year checkup in July and we didn’t have Tri-Care. Our out-of-pocket expense for Jeb’s checkup was $72. Our full price payment for uninsured patients for Scott’s checkup was $52. Couple that with the premiums for insurance we would have paid in June and July, we were already saving quite a bit of money.
Over the next two years and some months, Jeb broke his hand, Kaylee broke her thumb and then her ankle, and there were a series of typical kid sicknesses. Despite that, we saved a significant amount of money not having insurance and just paying providers directly. We also discovered that if we offered to pay hospital bills in full when they first arrived, the hospital would discount them further.
But, having no health insurance is risky business — especially when you have a family history of cancer (Gregg), high blood pressure and a heart condition (me), and three active children. So, we decided to quit gambling and insured again.
The company for which Gregg works offers several options for insurance, and I spent several hours a day for about a week researching everything and looking at all of our options. I have to tell you, even with someone who has human resources experience like I do, it was a labyrinth of information. AND, I had to battle that mindset of mine that came from my prior life and quit being attracted to the type of insurance that would take the least amount of money out of my pocket at the doctor’s office.
For instance, through my employer in Florida, I had an HMO insurance. This was an incredibly expensive insurance (my employer’s cost for me and Kaylee was $900 per month), but my employer paid it for me, so the only cost I personally saw was what I had to pay out-of-pocket. My 14-day hospital stay, emergency c-section, and Scott’s 4-week NICU stay cost us a whopping $250. Knowing that, it was tempting to go the route of the HMO – the most expensive monthly option.
Instead, I used Gregg’s mindset. Over the course of the next 15 years, what is the best option for us? I made charts, watched online seminars offered by his company’s HR department, and learned. And then I learned some more.
Considering the fact that everyone in our family is healthy right now (even my blood pressure has been lower – drug free – for the last six months), considering the fact that we have an extremely healthy diet with very little processed, packaged, or fast food, and considering other lifestyle factors, we decided that a catastrophic healthcare plan with an interest bearing medical savings account that could roll-over and eventually be invested further would be the best financial decision we could make, and would make us better stewards of our money.
Despite the fact that we would pay out of pocket for much of the routine healthcare, over the course of time it would save us so much more money than Tri-Care, an HMO, or even a PPO plan with a lower deductible.
It’s hard to come from my background and look at medical bills, see how much they often are and just pay them. So often, I panic and want to hoard money out of fear that I might need it for something else. But then I remind myself that it is just a symptom of the “shell shock” from my old life and I relax.
And I also remember that if in the end we’ve saved so much more money over the years, then we’ve been good stewards of this money in which God has entrusted us, and we can then turn around and help that many more people with financial burdens.
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Hi Hallee, thank you for this post. Medical insurance and figuring it all out is really my big weakness in trying to manage our family’s finances. Right now my husband is insured thanks to his position at graduate school but we would have to go (farther) into debt to insure my daughter and I. Because of state programs, my daughter is insured but I’m not. I’m mostly comfortable with this (I go to a low-cost clinic when I need to) but we do have a family history of cancer and heart disease so something like (what I think it’s like) a catastrophic healthcare plan could be good. Except I’ve never heard of one before today. Would you mind sharing a little bit more information about what that is?
Yes, please share more about this “catastrophic healthcare plan with an interest bearing medical savings account that could roll-over and eventually be invested further” option. Right now we pay about $400/month to my husband’s work funded PPO plan (plus dental and vision). I get pretty expensive migraine meds extremely cheap through this plan, but other than that, we pay way too much. And I’m totally aware how little this is compared to many company plans. I still hate it.
Thank you! You are doing good work and I really appreciate your blog! Just wanted to send this quick note :-)
@ Lisa – $400 a month for family medical and dental coverage is pretty cheap if you have now deductibles, low co-pays, and low RX co-pays. I’d say you are doing great!
I don’t know if catastrophic is a technical term – it’s just what I’ve always called it. It’s a plan with a really high deductible – like $5,000 per person or more. So, it’s useless for standard years where you call the doctor with a croupy baby or such, but would be great in the event of a heart attack or something like that. It has a really low premium (less than $200 per month).
The medical savings plan is a benefit offered by Gregg’s employer. They contribute a set amount a month, and we can contribute, pre-tax, up to a set amount. The money goes into an interest bearing account and can be used for medical costs – co-pays at the doctor, medical bills, eyeglasses – even the purchase of bandages. We have a debit card and a checkbook for that account. There were two options for accounts, and one of them did not roll over – it had to be used. This one will roll over year-to-year, and when it reaches a certain dollar amount, we can re-invest that money.
Halle, I think you have made more progress in taking care of yourself and spending money on yourself than you realize. I often harken back to your post “A Week in the Life of Halle.” You went and got a manicure or pedicure (don’t rememeber which) while a babysitter cared for your kids. That’s great that you do stuff like that for yourself. I am working on it. We have a large jacuzzi bathtub in our bathroom and I really would like to take a bath in it – just can’t work up to taking the time to do something like that for myself. You are a great role model of self care while also caring for others.
It’s great that you found something that works for your family. I believe you are talking about an HSA. That’s what Erin’s company offers. We had it one year and hated it. We ended up paying a lot out of pocket because it didn’t cover anything they did not deem absolutely necessary – basically a yearly exam and Erin’s asthma medicine. One of his coworkers suffers terrible migraines and they will not cover her very costly meds. The deductible is $4000. This is a big reason why I stay in the Guard. We are quite happy with TriCare.
This one covers preventative care 100%. But, I’m sure that medication gets applied to the deductible. I think our individual deductibles are $3000, but family is $5000.
I had heard of it (through a radio commercial on Christian radio traveling through another town) but never really researched it. I wondered if it was legitimate.
Hallee, have you considered a medical share program such as Samaritan Ministries as opposed to catastrophic health insurance? I’m just curious if you have, and if so, why catastrophic seems a better option.
We’re weighing the two right now. From my research, I don’t think I would consider a different medical share program at this point, but SM seems like a good option. The cheapest rate I’ve found in our area for catastrophic with a $5,000 deductible was more than we’d be paying for SM and without the benefit of maternity coverage. We’re considering setting up an HSA at some point. We’ve been uninsured since moving back to the states two years ago.
Hallee, I recommend you visit their website and if your interest is piqued, to do a little research on your own. Of course, if you and your husband have decided on a plan that fits for your family, there isn’t necessarily any reason to change course.
After reading your views on government spending and government mandated health insurance, I think you would be very pleased to know that such an organization as SMI exists. Their organizational structure is different from other medical share organizations, making it a more smoothly operating system where member’s needs are met well. I have yet to find anything negative about the organization or find anyone who has had a negative experience with them (although, nothing is perfect, right?) It fits right in with the church working together to meet the needs in the body of Christ and you are ensured that your money is not supporting a lifestyle and choices that are outside of a Biblical standard. Each member is held accountable by leadership in their local church.
There are a number of organizations, mostly ministry-based that I know of, that are now using SMI to offer healthcare to their staff. They are able to couple that with a HSA to offer affordable and quality health care for a much lower cost.
SMI recently announced plans to open a free Christian maternity hospital in the Chicago area (their goal is to have one in each major city) as they feel the church should carry the burden of the 41% of births covered by Medicaid as of 2007. I’m not sure how this is funded, but I am impressed with their mission and conviction. You can read about it on their site or listen to a podcast. A young member on their staff was part of a homeschool interview and discusses the project.
As I’ve said, my husband are not yet members (we are sending in the paperwork once he gets home next week), nor do we work for SMI. I thought it was worth mentioning for those who need a good health care option. Another plus in my book is that medical share organizations are exempt from the health care mandate scheduled to be enforced in a couple years.