This is an article I wrote a couple of years ago, and I thought of it while writing a post about my Grandmother's recovery from a broken hip. Feel free to pass it on!
In this article, I would like to share with you several ways our family saves on health care costs, everything from foregoing traditional insurance to doing simple things at home.
When people find that we have a really large family (10 children) I know they often wonder how we can afford medical care without health insurance. When we lost our group coverage from Thad’s previous employer in May 2004, we looked into the costs of individual policies and found high deductibles at over $1000 a month with no maternity coverage! Ouch! So we decided to do something radical -- not get any insurance! Instead, after looking back over our previous year's medical expenses and running cost comparisons on a computer spreadsheet, we signed up with the Samaritan Ministries health cost sharing plan. Basically, the concept is that Christians, who generally have a lower risk of health complications because of their clean lifestyles, pool together their resources and share health costs. This is coordinated by Samaritan Ministries (SM), who validates the medical bills and divvies the expenses between members. We pay a $125 annual fee, then about $250 per month. [Note: since I wrote this article, the monthly fees have gone up, and we have joined in on some additional coverage programs, so we pay a little less than $350 per month. We would be paying four times that much for high deductible health insurance.] The first few months, this fee is sent to SM for administrative overhead, but after that, we pay it directly to the family that SM tells us to send it to. SM does not cover routine doctor visits or anything under $300, but they will pay the remainder of expenses over $300. After three such events in one year, they pay the whole thing. There are exclusions for preexisting conditions, car accidents (you can join an additional SM program for this), and congenital birth defects. We do have to pay the health care providers by ourselves and then wait a few months until reimbursement comes in, but so far, we have saved a lot of money using Samaritan Ministries instead of paying for insurance. I could go on and on about the spiritual and financial benefits of belonging to Samaritan Ministries, but I'd rather send you to their web site: www.SamaritanMinistries.org. If you do sign up, please mention our name (Thad and Virginia Knowles), and we will get a discount off of one month's payment. Even without that perk, I highly recommend Samaritan Ministries!
One way that Samaritan Ministries saves us money is that we have the opportunity to keep our own medical costs under control. I’d like to share several ways we have been able to do this.
First, we don’t run to the doctor every time we have a sniffle. Many times, if we wait it out, the illness runs its course. I usually only take kids to the doctor if they might have strep throat, or if they have a bad sinus or chest infection that won’t clear up in due time. There is not much a doctor can do for viruses the common cold or flu anyway. Many of our friends and relatives swear by an over-the-counter remedy called Zicam for colds. Decongestants, pain relievers, garlic tablets, vitamins, vapor treatments, warm baths, naps, chicken soup, and lots and lots of drinking water can help, too. Common illnesses can also be prevented and contained so they don’t spread among family members. We try to quarantine our children in their bedrooms or at least one corner of the living room when they are contagious, and not let them touch refrigerator handles, milk jugs, etc. In the past, we also kept their toothbrushes separated, but we haven’t been as careful about this lately.
Many health care providers, such as our pediatrician and chiropractor, give a hefty discount for self-pay patients. Florida Hospital has routinely given us a 40% discount for paying right away. When I was pregnant, my midwife referred us to a sonogram center, operated by a Christian OB, which gave special rates for self-pay patients. Delivering with a midwife in a birthing center at your home may be much more affordable than an OB in a hospital. She is also less likely to prescribe expensive and invasive procedures, and more likely to suggest good nutrition and other wellness approaches. Also, when at the doctor’s office we ask them not to order any tests that aren’t really necessary. For example, when the doctor looked at my throat and said I had tonsillitis, I bypassed a strep test that she offered because I would be getting antibiotics anyway.
There are several organizations that arrange for free or reduced cost prescriptions for those who can’t afford it. One of these is the Partnership for Prescription Assistance at https://www.pparx.org/Intro.php. (I don’t have any experience with this program, but have seen the ads on TV. You can also ask your doctor for other recommendations.) A few of our doctors have been kind enough to offer us enough “sample” prescriptions to last the entire course of treatment. When you do need to pay for a prescription, you can remember to ask for generic and you can call around to find out what the least expensive pharmacy is. We have found Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart -- with their $4 prescriptions -- to be the most reasonable. We also buy generic brand over-the-counter medications, and have been quite satisfied. [Publix has free prescriptions in some cases.]
Our county health department provides free immunizations for children, and our doctor’s office charges only $10 per shot if you don’t have insurance. When our two oldest teenagers went out of the country for mission trips, they did have to pay for some of their travel immunizations, but the health department had the most reasonable cost and even gave a few of the shots for free because they were under the age of 18. I got my flu shot for a reduced rate at this clinic, too.
We avoid the emergency room as much as possible. We have found that if we can visit our family doctor or chiropractor first, we may be able to get treatment there. If not, they can give us a prescription to go directly to labs or X-ray at the hospital so we can skip the emergency room expense and wait. We also use walk-in emergency clinics for less severe problems when our doctor’s office is not open because the fee is so much lower. Another way to avoid the emergency room is to teach our children how to be safe so they don’t get injured in the first place. I can’t count how many times I have had to stop them from some sort of risky behavior saying, “We don’t need an ER visit right now!” Yes, we have to be a little more cautious, but that’s OK! We can also work extra hard to childproof our homes by keeping hazardous substances out of reach, blocking access to dangerous areas, or removing items that could fall one on someone or make them trip. For example, we used to have an iron railing separating our living room from our computer room. I can’t count how many injuries we had from children running into it, so when we redecorated the house, we tore it out. (It was really ugly, anyway!)
There are times when we don’t know whether we should go for medical treatment or not. Thad and I carefully observe the symptoms, talk it over, consult with our family physician and knowledgeable friends, check the Internet and our medical reference books for extra information, use our God-given intuition, and pray. Sometimes we go in with symptoms of a potentially serious situation that turn out to be nothing, but we’re glad we went in anyway because we needed to make sure. There have been other times when we had a concern but then decided to stay home and wait it out – and fortunately, we have always made the right decision with this! Here are a few good web sites to help you make informed choices about health care:
Dr. William Sears http://www.askdrsears.com/ (Christian pediatrician)
Dr. Alan Greene http://www.drgreene.com/ (pediatrician)
Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.com/
Web MD http://www.webmd.com
Last but not least, we can’t overlook the power of prayer – for God to heal us or for him to lead us on what to do about a medical situation. We want to be good stewards of our financial resources, but we also want to be faithful in taking care of our family’s health needs. God knows this, and he will help us to do what will please him the most! When I was in labor with my tenth child, I didn’t want to pay for a $1,600 epidural that would be beyond what Samaritan Ministries would pay. (Pregnancies are covered based on the number of months you have been a member.) I made a deal with my husband that if I could go without it, we would send several hundred dollars to a pastor in Malawi. I came to the point where I faced several hours of excruciating pain after the less powerful IV medications wore off. I reluctantly called for an epidural, but all of the sudden, God divinely opened up my cervix from 5 cm dilation to 10 cm – in about 20 minutes! Baby Melody arrived before the anesthesiologist could even get in the room! Thanks be to God! He was faithful even when my faith wavered!
I hope that these ideas will help you save money on your family's health care! Let me know what you do to cut your expenses in this area!