Friday, January 16, 2015

About CHM...

I had a blog reader ask me about our decision to drop our insurance and join CHM (Christian Healthcare Ministries). I generally don't want to discuss products or services or anything like that on this blog... but after typing out the story of how/why we made that choice, I realized that there was some testimony in there. It's part of our story of what Living With Jesus looks like. And maybe some other readers out there would benefit by the information, like we would have if we'd have found out sooner.

So with that warning...

Insurance costs over the last couple of years were starting to rise with the company my husband was with before last year's job change. Almost all Americans know that story, so we probably weren't the only ones who were starting to wonder if it was worth it.
The kids and I have essentially never used our insurance (only using dental regularly) and my husband has had several surgeries and procedures over the years.  But we'd already seen that, in the last few years, every time something came along, like when they wanted to do colonoscopy and endoscopy, etc, the insurance paid almost nothing. So the more costs rose, the more we started wondering if it was worth it. (Even for the three births, insurance was only used on one of them. The other two, we paid out of pocket for mid-wife services that the insurance did not cover.)

So both at the end of 2012 and 2013, we thought about dropping our insurance. Each time we ultimately chickened out, reasoning that the insurance we had was still better than most places (because the company was SO large that they self-insured). Each time we opted to keep it, even though we rarely used it. The only thing we use regularly now is a chiropractor and we have always self-paid those visits. (Many chiropractors in our experience and where we live will charge self-pay patients $35/visit, while the insurance co-pay is $50... if the insurance even covers it. Another example of how useless health insurance has been for us.)

In August of last year, when my husband got his new job, we were told that the insurance with the new company was expensive, but we didn't think about it too much or worry about it... we were too confident that God had provided this opportunity and that it would work out somehow. (Which it did, just not in the way we were thinking.)  

The last week of August, though, my husband had his heart do something funny, he thought, so he went to the doctor while we did still had insurance. It wouldn't have mattered if we hadn't, as everything fell under our deductible, but they did a stress test and chest x-rays. The doctor said he had an extremely mild case of Bronchitis, gave him an antibiotic, and said his heart was fine. We eventually (In October) received $1600 in medical bills, and the insurance paid nothing because it was all under the deductible. 

Through September, we had no health insurance, and nothing happened. I should have been looking for other alternative options at that point, and I did look at the exchanges and public insurance, but all of those were more expensive. I did not find out about any other alternative. And everyone I talked to said their family rates were in line with ours.

In October, we were eligible for insurance under the new job. We found with a shock that the new company did not offer dental at all... we've NEVER been without dental, and that we have used a lot... lots of teeth with deep groves, so sealants needed, and cavities filled, etc. Not to mention 2/year cleanings and yearly x-rays.  So not only was the insurance about $150/month more than we were paying before, it did not include dental. And they said it was going up even more in 2015.

We still weren't sure what to do, so we reluctantly signed up for the insurance. He was getting paid less already, but we'd accepted that because it wasn't a lot less, and it was about 20 hours/week less. It was more per hour, and far less stress, and getting him out of the cold in the winter. All reasons why we were praising God for the new job... but the insurance was making the overall picture a lot more bleak than we anticipated.

A week into October, we got his first paycheck with the medical insurance taken out, and we realized that either we needed to drop insurance, or else I'd have to work longer hours and make more money, or he'd have to get a second job, or God would have to give us peace that He was going to work a miracle every paycheck.  We could not afford to pay for insurance that covered none of what we actually used (chiropractor and dental) and still somehow pay for what we did need out of pocket. We seriously began looking into dropping the insurance. The thing is, we knew that, come 2015, the government fine for not having insurance would be over $1000. Still, though, it seemed that paying that and cash for the few doctor's visits we usually had would be maybe $1500/year... while the insurance was going to cost us $6000/year AND his company another $6000/year. (2014 rates... 2015 is 15% more.)

In the middle of October, I found out about Christian cost-sharing ministries whose members are exempt from the ACA mandate. I realized pretty quickly that the lowest and cheapest plan was essentially the same as the government would fine us for not having insurance... and we wouldn't be fined.  So I instantly knew that if we decided to drop insurance, we'd at least do that one.  Why pay the government $1000/year in a fine, when the some money can go toward other fellow Christians' health care costs and at the same time give us the option to ask for help if something huge and expensive arose?

The more I looked into it, the more we really, really liked it.  Every time we thought about $12,000/year going to an insurance company (half from our pocket) even if we didn't have any claims... and then us needing to pay for another $3,000 up front if anything happened... and more for coinsurance on top of that... the more we hated the idea.  We could not understand where $12,000/year was going, other than to be swallowed up by the system. On the other hand, the money paid into a cost-sharing system was definitely going somewhere good, even if we never had a need ourselves.

By the third week in October, we knew we were going to drop the insurance and switch... I just didn't know which one: Samaritan or CHM. I decided against Medi-Share for a number of reasons and I hadn't found out that there's a fourth option. (These four are the ONLY four whose members are exempt from the ACA mandate.)

I was leaning toward CHM because of the flexibility in different levels, but I wasn't positive yet. October 23rd, I almost signed us up, and I should have. It was probably God prompting me... thank goodness I know He is faithful even when we mess up! Because I put it off and said that I wanted to talk the differences between the programs over with my husband one more time... we'd do that in 3 days... on Saturday. 

But the next day, 10/24, he wound up in the ER with A-fib... heart going nuts.  

As we were driving to the hospital that night, I almost grabbed my laptop to sign us up for CHM from the ER room, because we'd be covered as of that day. But my conscience wouldn't let me. It didn't seem right to do that immediately just because we knew we already needed it. Sort of bending the rules. I'd have been fine if I'd done it earlier that day when I had no idea what was about to happen, but I hadn't.  Instead I grabbed our unused new insurance card from the stack of mail on the counter.  

And over the next three hours, as I sat with him in the ER and watched them hook things up to his heart, I was mostly thinking about him and thanking God for taking care of us. But in the back of my mind, I knew that I should have gotten us signed up for CHM.  I knew, knew, knew that this was going to cost us a LOT, and we'd have been much better off with CHM. 

He was transferred to the nearby town's hospital overnight because our hospital didn't have any ICU beds available and they had to keep him under constant watch until his heart reset and that drug left his system.  His heart did rest at 1am, and they released him and he came home that afternoon -- after going through another stress test and a million other tests.

Less than 24 hours in the hospital, and the doctors and hospitals billed the insurance over $12,000.

The insurance forced discounts of something like $3,000 and they actually paid only about $1,500.  Our portion was $7,500.  Avita did give me some additional discounts to knock it down to $5,600, but the insurance didn't help with that.

So an insurance company that is charging $12,000/year to insure our family paid out only $1,500 when we actually had something happen. And they wanted 15% more for 2015 premiums!

We could not do it. We refused to do it, even if we could afford it. 

On the other hand, if I HAD signed us up for EITHER of the two cost-sharing plans that I'd been going back and forth between, we would have wound up being out less than $1,000.00... possibly less than $500. 

So instead of being grateful we still had insurance when this happened, I was struggling to trust God and not kick myself for not having already switched it over. 

We needed no other confirmation that we needed to switch. 

And the fact that it happened ruled out Samaritan anyway, because they do not ever cover pre-existing heart conditions.  The doctors have said that this might never happen again to his heart... or it might, and if it does there's a heart procedure they can do to fix it. With CHM, those costs, should it happen again, will be "shareable."

Through November, my husband felt fine and went through checkups. The cardiologist wanted to monitor his heart for a month to see if his heart has any other bad rhythms on a regular basis, but the insurance wouldn't cover it. They'd rather just wait and see if we have another $12,000 incident and risk a stroke than pay out $450 to see if something preventative can be done. Insurance once again looking out for us! (Can you hear my sarcasm?)

Insurance proponents say that cost-sharing isn't reliable, because they are not legally required to cover your costs like insurance is. My husband and I laugh. Our insurance is legally allowed to deny any claim they want... and make us jump through hoops to get approval.  They are legally allowed to charge $12,000/year for a plan that only helped with $1,500 out of $12,000.  

There is absolutely no security in having health insurance anymore. Not in our mind. We've got to trust God to provide if something happens, regardless of whether or not we've got insurance. 

The choice for us was only what we're going to do with the money from our paychecks: give it to an insurance company or give a much smaller portion of it toward someone else's medical bills and start our own medical savings account with the rest. 

So at the end of October, we signed us all up for the cheapest bronze plan with CHM, and we dropped the kids and I from the health insurance.  At the end of November, my husband's cardiologist said nothing more was needed as long as he felt fine, so we dropped him from the insurance as well and bumped his CHM coverage level up to Gold. 

We're paying/giving $240/month plus $75/quarter for our membership with CHM.

My credit union (USAA) did start offering dental insurance, and I bought basic coverage that will pay for cleanings and X-rays and give us discounts on fillings for $67/month.  

I also had to add the medical coverage to our auto policy which added $22/month.

Altogether, that's $354/month... and should my husband have another A-fib episode, we'll probably have to pay almost nothing, when all's said and done, because all of the expenses will be eligible for sharing with CHM. If the kids and I have something happen, and it totals less than $5,000, then we'd be out more because that's the threshold for the Bronze plan... but I don't even know if it's possible to have anything happen and have the bills total less than $5,000.  It probably is for something like a broken bone or something, and follow up visits aren't covered under the bronze plan. I don't really know... no point in trying to figure out the details on something that so far God has protected us from. I'd like to eventually move us up to one of the higher plans if we can afford it, but for now, Bronze covers us if something huge happens, and we can afford that.

And $354 is SOOO much more affordable than $700/month (2015 rates for our half) for coverage that didn't very little in October and doesn't include dental or chiropractor. We can afford to set some aside in our own medical savings account now.

And all of that money (other than the $22/month for medical on the auto policy) is now going either for medical costs that we will actually USE, or it's going toward other people's medical costs, rather than just going into an insurance company's coffers.  We feel so much better about this! Even if we go 10 years without every needing help with our bills, all that money will go directly to help those who ARE needing help, instead of disappearing into an insurance company's accounts.

For 34 years, CHM has allowed their members to help each other out with their bills. I searched the web for complaints and found virtually none.  Read their monthly newsletters on the website. That's what clinched it for me... I'm joining a community that trust God with me. We're all trusting God that He will provide for all of our medical needs together. I love reading their newsletters. I love reading the little listings on the prayer page and seeing how even those with pre-existing, non-eligible costs (incurred after they became members), are being covered through the generosity of other members. You can see people's amounts go down if you follow from month to month.

Finally, on top of all that, two weeks ago God led me to a doctor who is setting up a cash-only family practice in our nearby city. I talked with her over the phone, and she's just as fed up with insurance companies as I am. She knows people who are on cost-sharing plans, and she believes that she can offer doctor visits to cash pay patients at around $80/adult and $50/child... HALF what Avita doctors charge cash-paying patients. (Avita owns almost everyone and everything medical in this area. They charge $210 base rate for a 15-minute checkup, and they give cash-pay patients only a 30% discount, even though they have essentially zero paperwork and billing to do for cash-pay patients.)  

This doctor is also a naturally-minded doctor as well, which I like. She told me that she will have no problem working with doctors and hospitals in the area if need be; she has built relationships with many over the last 10 years. But if something can be handled naturally, then that's her preference. 

So God provided a doctor as well. He is so good!

So that long story is the journey of how we came to drop our insurance and sign up for CHM. That is also a bit more testimony of how God leads and provides, even when you mess up... as I know He will.  And THAT is why I wanted to share this story. CHM does offer a free month if you refer someone else, but since you all don't know my full name, you'll have to specifically ask if you sign up and want me to get the free month. That's not why I'm sharing this.

The ending of the story will be when/how God provides the $5,600 that is currently on a credit card. I've got until February 17th to either transfer it to a low rate card or pay it off somehow... God knows and I don't!

Friday, January 02, 2015

Living out life by faith...

Wednesday night I blogged about one verse that's been on my mind a lot lately. The other one I mentioned is this:
The righteous shall live by faith.

I cannot count the number of times I've heard or read that verse, but only recently have I actually thought about the nitty-gritty of what that actually means... what it might look like to a Christian of today.

My husband and I were talking about it, and there really are a lot of ways to "take" that verse. Does it mean that if you are righteous, you will choose to live by faith? Or does it mean that if you are living by faith, that means you're righteous? Is it saying that living by faith is a conscious decision that the righteous man makes? Or is it deeper than a choice?

I honestly don't know if God was aiming for one of those definitions over the others, but I've found myself thinking more the last few weeks about what that word "live" itself actually is talking about.

To me, when the Bible talks about how we live (or should be living), it's referring to all of the many things we do throughout each day. It's talking about how we relate to those around us, how we think, and what motivates us. It's talking about the type of employee we are in the workplace, spouse we are in our marriage, parent we are to our kids, and son or daughter we are to our parents.

Can I share a series of little stories from December? All of them are part of this new normal that I mentioned Wednesday night.

I already shared about how God went car shopping for me, and how He was also taking care of little things for me like rescheduling doctor's appointments. Well, it's continued.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

I decided I wanted to somehow give my daughter a new computer for Christmas as a combination Christmas/18th birthday gift. (She turns 18 next week.) She's a budding graphic designer, and the old computer she had was not powerful enough to run Photoshop very well. Actually, it would hardly run it at all.  I really didn't know how much money I should spend for Christmas, seeing as how we've got this mountain of medical bills from October, so I just sent up a silent, "What should I do, Father?" Somehow, I quickly became convinced that it was okay to spend $300 for this for her.

Anyone who knows anything about computers and Photoshop would totally laugh at getting a new computer for that much. You can barely get a entry-level computer for that price, much less one that is capable of running the things my daughter wants to practice and learn in Photoshop. Nevertheless, that's all I had peace with spending, even after she said she was okay if she got no other gifts. Thankfully, my 16-year-old son is a computer whiz who has already built one custom computer, so I asked him to help me find computer parts. We searched Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads. We pulled apart her current computer for any parts that might not be too old to use. I looked at every rebate deal around. Several times, I had to tell him, "Yes, that sounds like an amazing deal on an amazing graphics card, but I don't feel right spending that much."

But when we finally collected a list of everything we'd need to build her the computer and the deals and items we'd found, my son made the comment, "Wow. I don't know how it's possible that we're going to be able to build her a computer this nice for only $300. Are you sure we're not forgetting something? Are these really all the right parts?" We went through everything again, though. It was all there... amazing deals, and everything was compatible with each other. That was the sticking point... we'd find one deal, only to discover that it wouldn't work with abc or xyz.  And the grand total (after rebates), the very first time I added up what we'd found that would work together was $299.97. Coincidence? Nope. Not for a computer that's the equivalent of many $900+ machines on the market. (My son considered it a huge bonus that he got to build another computer as well.)

And God just made all the deals fall into place for me. For her.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

One day in early December, I decided what I wanted to get my son for Christmas. I went looking online, and in less than 10 minutes, "happened" across an Amazon deal (one of those deals that only lasts a few hours and usually sells out fast) for that exact item... in the brand that he'd told me was the absolute best... at about half price.  If I had gone looking a different day or even earlier or later that day, the deal wouldn't have been there. But I'd been too busy with other things on other days.

This is just part of the "I can't deal with it today, Father tell me when it's time" sort of mentality that I learned in the wake of the car accident. When He prompted me with the thought and the initiative, He had the deal lined up for me.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

I wanted to get an extra gift for my brother who was coming for Christmas, but it was a rather last-minute decision. Actually, it was a VERY last minute decision, two days before Christmas, when I had only about 1/2 hour to think of and find whatever gift I wanted to get. So as I was driving into town, I prayed.

"Father God, what can I get Michael for Christmas?"
A jacket. Something lightweight.
"Okay. Where should I go to find one? I don't have much time." 
Burlington Coat Factory.
 "I suppose that makes a lot of sense, but I'm already going to Meijer, and they sell jackets, too. Probably on sale as well."

I didn't really hear a response to that, but I figured that I'd look at Meijer since I was headed there anyway. Just in case those thoughts weren't really God's whispers. If Meijer didn't have anything, then I'd go to the other end of town where Burlington Coat Factory was.

Meijer, of course, did not have anything that seemed quite right. I got my groceries and left, knowing that I had wasted precious time in the clothes section. I had to be home soon so that my daughter could take the car to work. And I still had no jacket.

Then my son texted me asking when I would pick him up. I glanced at my clock and texted him back, "I'll be there in about half an hour." Then it struck me... that gave me precisely 7 minutes to go into Burlington, find a coat for my brother, get up to the checkout, and get back on the road to pick up my son so I could be home in time.

Lord, I guess I'm really trusting You, here... not only that Burlington is going to have a jacket for my brother, but also that I'm going to be able to find it - and know that it's the right one - almost immediately.

That seemed pretty outrageous for a December 23rd Christmas shopping trip, done by a rather indecisive person... but I had no choice. And my new found, deeper experiences of trusting God with the crazy little things of life told me that I could trust Him for this.

So I walked into Burlington, found the men's coat section, and had a quick "uh-oh" feeling when I saw how bare the racks were. I pulled one off the rack that was nice, but it was a heavy coat.

That's not the kind of jacket you had in mind, whispered through my spirit.

I put it back and turned around... and there it was. Just one jacket. Looking like something my brother would wear. In what I was pretty sure was the right size. I walked up to the registers where there was exactly no one in line, checked out, and was on my way to pick up my son.

Christmas morning, my husband curiously asked my brother, "Did you need a jacket?"  His answer: "Actually, yes. I have a heavy coat and a lot of sweatshirts, but I've needed a jacket like this one."  My husband made him try it on, and it fit perfectly. Of course. God doesn't mess up.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

The next day, I was going through medical bills and statements trying to finish pulling together everything that tax purposes decreed had to be finished off before the end of the year.  A year, in fact, that turned out to be 500% more crazy than usual... between two different jobs, three different insurance plans, two FSA accounts, an HSA account, and medical bills paid for through all three of those AND cash payments... and more that the auto insurance is supposed to reimburse us for... all of which I had to keep straight and separate from each other because the IRS would throw a fit if one got "claimed" twice.  Let's just say that it's been a lot of opportunities to practice moving things over to God's desk (my little parable illustration from last month).

So I called up one of the FSA accounts to find out if all the documentation I'd sent earlier in December met all of the requirements they said they needed by the end of the year. The very kind representative started going through them. She started telling me which expenses needed further documentation, and I was adding those notes to the still-increasing list of stuff I needed to get done by the end of the year, when all of a sudden, she said, "You know what?  Wait a minute... would you mind holding for a few minutes?" I said I didn't mind, and the music came on.

She came back and told me, "Never mind sending all that in. I just got my supervisor to approve it all with what you sent. It's good enough. Merry Christmas."

I said, "What? You mean that list you were giving me... you don't need it after all?"  She said, "Nope. Just log back into your account next week to make sure that everything got approved properly."  I thanked her profusely... and thanked God.

I logged back on December 31st, and sure enough, everything was marked as approved with no further documentation needed.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

Then I called up the local hospital.  The biggest bill from October was still missing, off in lala land somewhere. Now ordinarily, people don't mind if hospital bills don't show up. However, I had looked at our finances and taxes enough to know that, if we paid for some of these hospital bills in 2014 and some in 2015, then we would not get to deduct any of them from taxes due to our AGI and the threshhold the IRS sets and all sorts of complicated things that the tax person helped me with.  Thus, the hospital would have to get all their money in 2014 or wait until 2015.

At first I planned to wait until January 2015 to pay them off, primarily because we have no insurance now. (We've decided to go a different route with CHM... cannot afford traditional insurance.) But then I began feeling quite strongly that God wanted me to pay them off in 2014, even though that would mean using one of those credit card balance transfer deals to "pay" for it.

So whenever I had some moments and energy and mental stamina for tackling things, I worked on figuring everything out. But every time I called about that biggest-of-all-bills, I got strange stories about the insurance reversing all their payments. I refused to worry about it; I just took whatever next step was recommended and laid the rest back on God's desk.

By Wednesday morning, it was the end of the year. I called the hospital again, and this time the woman I spoke with seemed to see things that the others had not. She took down my phone number, and in less than an hour, called me back to say that that it had all been resolved. She had my totals and had even applied the 15%-discount-if-paid-within-30-days to the over-60-days bills.

Done. In time.

Sometimes God likes to test our patience and trust, but I knew that He would work it out, if indeed He did want me to pay them all in 2014. And He did.

I found all the details necessary for sorting everything out for the IRS falling together as well... and on a day when I was not much needed at work.  God probably could have let it all fall together on a day when my job needed 8 hours out of me, but I'm grateful He chose a very, very slow day instead.  He's never late.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

A few days after Christmas, my husband paused as he was leaving for work to say that our son should burn all the Christmas paper and cardboard in the burn barrel later that day. I agreed and kissed him goodbye.

Four minutes later, he called me from on the road. "Go through all that Christmas stuff and cardboard before you burn it. I just got this feeling that there's something important in it, right after I said that."

I agreed, and my son and I went through it. There was everything from wrapping paper to cereal boxes to stacks of junk mail and more. We went through it, though... I was not going to take the warning lightly, just in case it was from God.

And then we found it... the registration and memo title for my new car. I don't really know how they got in there, but yeah... burning them wouldn't have been good.

God knew they were there, and He gave us the necessary warning.

.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.,.~*`*~.

So here I am, looking into 2015 and asking myself, "Is this what it means to live by faith?" Listening to daily - even hourly - promptings in my spirit from God?

It's a walk of faith, because it's not like God speaks through this booming voice that can never be doubted. Each time I've had a choice... write it off as just a thought and choose to pit my own mental powers against the problem at hand, or choose to trust that it was God, since I've asked for His leading. Choose to worry, or choose to trust. It reminds me of that scene from Indiana Jones, when he chooses to walk a path he cannot see.

So does living by faith mean learning to listen to Him regarding everything in my life? Even things like taking out the trash and which stores to shop in and whether to pay a bill on Tuesday or Thursday?

Does it mean trusting - having faith - that everything He whispers to us is important for a particular reason?

Does it mean that sometimes that reason might be simply that He's taking care of us and wanting to make a roadway in the wilderness of modern life for us? Just because He loves us?

I think it does.

My job lately has had a heavier load that I want, taking more time from my family than I want... but I think He will teach me to follow His lead in this.

I don't like how much weight I've slowly gained this year, nor how it's making me feel... nor how the multiple attempts at losing weight I made through the year failed. Yet I have this confidence that, when the time is right, He will teach me to follow His lead in this as well.  One step at a time.

And now that the mountain of medical bills is sitting on a credit card -- paid according to the IRS's definitions but not according to mine -- I can't help but believe that the same God who directed me in all these little things has got those thousands somewhere, ready and waiting to be given into our hands to pay those bills off completely. I have no idea how or when that will be, but miraculously, I am not worried. For I followed His leading and He has proven Himself over and over and over again.

He'll lead me in the nitty-gritty of when to step away from work and where, when, and how to exercise. He'll lead me in the nitty-gritty of what bills to pay when... and when to leave them on His desk while I go to bed earlier to get the rest my body needs instead of staying up late trying to earn another $20 for those bills.

He'll tell me when to say No to the things that will burden me heavily, and when to say Yes to the burdens that He has given me grace for... so much grace upon grace that they will be light because they are the things He has called me to do.

His grace is sufficient, because He is enough, and because He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and always-providing One.

I cannot wait to see what He teaches me in 2015!

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