Healthcare Insurance for Missionaries

(This 2 part post was written by a good friend who worked in a missionary agency, helping missionaries make decision about their health insurance coverage.  While some details apply primarily to missionaries, most of the principles can be applied to our lives regardless of location.  In a sense, we are all missionaries and should consider our health insurance in terms of God’s wisdom.  I hope you benefit from this post.  If you know a missionary, consider sharing it with them.)

Part One

Insurance! Can’t live with it, can’t live without it…at least not in this day and age. For your average bear, navigating these waters can be overwhelming and confusing, wrought with fine print and mystifying legal jargon. I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys reading and understanding insurance policies. Yes, people like me actually exist! Part of this interest stems from my experience as a marketer, administrator and consumer of insurance. Time and again I have seen the real world impact of having quality insurance, or lack thereof. For three years, I had the pleasure of working as an accountant and financial administrator for a Christian missions organization. During that time I was the group administrator for our health insurance policy. My time as a group insurance administrator was full of twists, turns and perilously deep pot holes. Our ability to acquire and maintain high quality, affordable health insurance was vital for many of our families on the field whose loved ones would never be approved for an individual plan due to pre-existing, chronic health conditions.

One of the most significant challenges I faced during my tenure was educating our missionaries on the ins and outs of procuring a good health insurance plan and the potential consequences of cutting too many corners to reduce premium costs. For the best of reasons, this is not the typical missionary’s area of expertise. As in many missions organizations, our missionaries live on the generous financial support of friends, family and churches. Living on support can be a nerve-racking experience, but it is also tremendously faith-building. As the financial situation of each supporter ebbs and flows, then so too does the income of each missionary. The result is that often missionaries, especially those that have been on the field for a number of years, experience lean times when financial margins are slim to none. Because of this, many missionaries understandably are looking for ways to trim their budgets…get by on a bit less…squeeze blood out of the proverbial turnip.

That sizeable insurance premium quickly becomes a target when looking for ways to trim the fat. Since matters of insurance are matters of far reaching consequence for your family, allow me to encourage you to ask yourself some of the following questions before making your final insurance selection…

  • Where would you want to seek medical treatment should someone in your family have a significant medical event or diagnosis of a serious illness?

When discussing medical costs, many missionaries point to the fact that health care in their adopted nation is much cheaper than the U.S. and of adequate quality. This is great news for your run-of-the-mill medical needs (i.e., annual check-ups, severe cold, uncomplicated labor and delivery, etc.). However, does your international plan leave you vulnerable should you have an accident requiring repatriation, or should you need treatment for an ongoing, complex illness necessitating an unexpected return to the states. Ask yourself, “Under what medical circumstances would I want my family to return to the States for care and support?” While it is everyone’s earnest and faith-filled hope and prayer that they don’t face major medical problems, most adults older than 25 know that significant medical events do happen, often unexpectedly. Here are a couple of things to consider as you review your insurance options:

  • Medical evacuation coverage

  • U.S. medical care coverage (not just international) to include co-pays, deductibles, maximum out-of-pocket, etc.

  • When on an individual plan, what is my vulnerability to premium changes at renewal time or the possibility of not being renewed at all?

If you have spent your adult life on a group plan or have been blessed not to have any significant medical concerns, then you might not be aware of some of the vulnerabilities of individual medical plans. Here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • Individual plans do not have to renew your contract when it expires at the end of the policy year. Should your claims exceed what they are comfortable paying, they may decide they no longer want to provide insurance coverage to your family when you most need it;

  • Should you have significant claims in a given year, there is a good chance that your bargain premium may skyrocket at the time of renewal. I have seen plans go from a few hundred dollars a month to a couple thousand dollars a month, clearly a jump most missionaries (and non-missionaries for that matter) cannot afford.

  • Should you need to drop your individual plan due to a significant premium increase or because they refused to renew your contract, you are now facing the following circumstance as an uninsured family:

  • You cannot join your agency’s group plan until an open enrollment time, which may leave you with a several month gap in coverage. Being dropped by or dropping your individual plan is not considered a “qualifying event” by most group insurance plans.

  • A new individual plan won’t cover your pre-existing condition(s), which is probably the very expensive reason you are finding yourself in need of immediate coverage.

Continued next time….

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