Like most early retirees, the question that we get asked the most is about health care. It’s an important question…after all, spending on health care represents a huge chunk of early retirement spending.
Heck, according to this study by The Commonwealth Fund, health care spending is eating up more than 10% of people’s incomes each and every year. That’s huge if you’re working a full-time job, but it’s more significant than that if you no longer have all that cash rolling in every month.
How do we manage our health care?
Without making you read a bunch of text before spilling the beans, here goes: We chose Liberty HealthShare.
Liberty Healthshare is not health “insurance”, but it is exempt from Obamacare (thus, no penalties!).
Quick health check: I almost never go to the doctor. I work out routinely and lead a healthy life. We eat healthy meals without a lot of meat, fat, and carbs at home. Occasional drinks. Last blood test returned perfectly normal. More or less, I don’t need much in the way of insurance. My wife used to suffer from migraines, but she is also as active and healthy as I am.
Also, health shares are becoming incredibly popular among full-time RVers. The flexibility offered by health shares far exceed those of traditional profit-based health insurance providers.
In fact, it hardly even compares.
But, that doesn’t mean health shares will work well for everybody.
Why Liberty HealthShare?
I hate health insurance.
In fact, I hate insurance in general. The insurance industry is a huge money-maker for large corporations in the United States, and there’s a reason for that.
Thankfully, we have USAA for our car insurance – which helps to ease the psychological burden of maintaining insurance, but with health care, we didn’t want to touch the whole “Marketplace” thing if we could avoid it…even with subsidies.
Healthcare is also more difficult for full-time RVers, like us. Most traditional health insurance companies won’t cover health costs once you leave your home state. While we do maintain a home address, we won’t actually be at that address the large majority of the time. We’re travelers, damnit.
Traditional health insurance just doesn’t work for us. It’s too restrictive and much too expensive for full-time travelers like us.
That is where health shares fill the void.
The process is pretty easy. If you incur a medical expense, you submit a claim straight to the health share. Done. It doesn’t matter where in the United States you are or what doctor treated you.
What is a health share? More or less, it’s a group of relatively healthy people who are sharing medical costs. Monthly dues are all pooled together and collectively fund the health care costs of those who are members of the health share. Health share services are about as straightforward as anything I’ve seen in the healthcare industry.
Liberty HealthShare – like most health shares, happens to be a non-profit organization, which means revenue is not the predominant factor in health services for its members. However, they aren’t required to cover medical expenses, either. More on that below.
How much do we pay for this service?
We signed up for Liberty’s “Complete” service account, which covers 100% of eligible health care costs up to $1,000,000 per incident as the share amount.
As a couple, we pay $399 / month for service on both of us. We also paid a $135 signup fee upon acceptance into the program. The plan requires a $1,000 Annual Unshared Amount, which is Liberty’s way of describing out-of-pocket expenses.
There is no such thing as “in-network” doctors with health shares. For our $399 / month, we can go to any doctor at any hospital – a requirement for those of us who travel.
And, the monthly dues we pay represent a microscopic amount compared to what we’d pay with traditional health insurance as full-time travelers. For us, choosing a health share was a no-brainer.
Apparently, it was a no-brainer for Michelle and her husband Wes at Making Sense of Cents, too.
The downside of health shares
While health sharing services can be quite a bit cheaper and more flexible than traditional insurance plans, they also aren’t governed by the same laws that insurance companies operate under. This means that health shares are under no legal obligation to cover your medical costs.
In addition, most require their members to abide by certain ethical rules – such as no smoking or excessive drinking, etc. And if you’re skydiving and hurt yourself, they probably won’t cover those types of expenses. If you are engaging in selective (read: optional) activity that increases your chances of huge healthcare costs, health shares may not cover you.
Including pre-existing conditions. My wife used to suffer from migraines, which is a pre-existing condition. Liberty HealthShare will not cover migraine-specific treatment for the first year. While not ideal, I can at least appreciate the fact that we know that up front.
Health share providers aren’t required to accept you. If you are overweight or lead an unhealthy lifestyle, you may not be a candidate for membership. That’s just the way it is, and it helps to keep costs down for all members.
Members pay a fraction of the price for health shares because its members are healthy and relatively risk-averse.
Do I need to be a religious fanatic?
The short answer is no, you don’t need to be an active church-going soul who believes in strict religious principles – at least for Liberty. There are some health shares that ARE fairly strict with their required belief system, but Liberty isn’t one of them.
That’s probably why Liberty seems to be one of the fastest growing health share providers among RVers that we’ve spoken with.
Check out their “Do I Qualify?” page for more on how Liberty runs their ethical rules and system of beliefs.
Even with these downsides, Liberty HealthShare was a clear winner for us. It enables us to maintain our mobile lifestyle with health protections at a reasonable cost. It also lets us avoid the whole Obamacare thing and the uncertainty around what it might look like down the road.
Liberty HealthShare is a simple solution for us.
And, we like simple.
Are you suggesting that everybody should sign up for a health share?
Absolutely, positively not.
Everybody’s needs will be different. Some of us need more health care than others. Many have preexisting conditions. Others need the assurance that their insurance company
Heck, some of you might resist health shares based on their religious associations (my wife and I are NOT religious).
I completely understand – they won’t work for everybody, and that’s okay.
For my wife and me as full-time travelers, it works for us, but you’ll need to make up your own mind about what will work for you.
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I’m designing the resource that you’re probably looking for without all the “Hire me to improve your site!” stuff that’s way too common.
I’d be honored if you’d sign up to be notified when the site officially goes live!
This post was originally published March 2017 but has been updated and revised using the Revise and Republish strategy.
Steve is a 37-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels with the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.