Monday, February 29, 2016

Samaritan Ministries Q&A: Share the Burden

I have people ask me constantly about our healthcare with Samaritan Ministries, so here is a post to answer many of those questions! Some are based on what I hear, and some are ones you've actually sent me. Always feel free to send more my way. I do ask if you join because of us that you would write us down as your referral. Here we go...

Q: How is this different from insurance?
A: I wrote extensively on this in my first post, so this answer here will be the short version. 

There are many ways Samaritan is different. The first way is that Samaritan, unlike insurance, is not a guarantee. Honestly, I'm not sure I ever viewed insurance as a guarantee, but since our government does, I'm going to note it as a difference. Samaritan sees healthcare much the way the Acts 2 church is described - we all need to share in each others' needs! That is done by joining together with others, who have committed their lives to Christ, to share the burden of healthcare.

With insurance, you give money each month to the insurance company to "insure" your needs will someday be covered, should they occur. With Samaritan, you write a check each month to someone with an existing healthcare need. With your check, you are supposed to send a note of encouragement too. We love how personal this is and that we know exactly who are money is going to and what it is covering. 

For more on this, read that post linked to above.

Q: What is the actual cost per month? 
A: For our family, it is $405 per month. That is the cost for families with three or more people. You can look up specific rates here. The cost would vary based on your family circumstances and size.

Q: What are the variables on cost per month? 
A: I listed the rates above. Other than those, what we pay can sometimes vary. We've had many months where the cost is less that $405, simply because there are less needs shared that month than there is money in the pot. In those cases, we are only asked to contribute the amount needed. 

My husband and I have also opted to be a part of the "Save to Share" program, where we save an additional $399 per year in order to help other families, who are part of this same program and have bigger needs. I'll talk more about this in a bit. However, some months, as participants in this programs, we are asked to contribute a little more to the person in need. We have yet to contribute more than $20 extra in a given month to the person in need, and since we've joined, we have only had a handful of a months where we've even needed to give any extra money for "Save to Share." 

Q: What steps do you take to get it? Can anyone join?
A: If you are a Bible-believing Christian and are actively involved at a church, where you are a member, then you qualify to join. Be sure to read Samaritan's foundational principles. Fill out the online form or request one by mail

Q: What steps do you take to make a "claim"?
A: What insurance companies often refer to as "claims" are actually called "needs" by Samaritan members. When you spend over $300 on one particular medical need, call Samaritan and they will set up the need for you and send you a three page packet where you describe your need and list out your bills for that need. It's really that easy! 

Q: How much time does the paperwork take? 
A: it does take some time. When we have had an on-going need, I usually schedule a couple 1.5-2 hour windows, while my youngest is napping, to fill out forms, gather my bills, call billing departments if needed, and make copies. 

Q: Call billing departments? 
A: Yes. As a Samaritan member, we agree to be good stewards with money. Therefore where we can get a discount, we do. This works by calling the billing department on a bill and saying, "Hi I'm Ashleigh Lankford. I'm calling about account {xyz} where we had {such and such need} performed. I'm cash pay. Can you give me any discount?" They almost always reply with a 20-50% discount. I've had as little as 10% taken off and as much as 80% taken off. There are some doctors today that only accept cash, so in their offices, we are not offered a discount, which is totally okay! 

This may seem like a pain, but this has actually been one of the quickest parts of the paperwork for me. And it ends up being more than worth the five minute phone call, since any discount you get is taken off the $300 you put towards your need. Essentially, you can pay $0 towards your own need if you do the necessary work to get your discounts. You will never be owed money or pay a negative amount towards your own need, but $0 is possible. 

For two of our three needs, we have paid $0 towards our end total because our discounts have been substantial. For this third one, I have chosen to see a cash pay doctor, a second doctor who does not offer discounts, and a naturopath who is cash only. Therefore we will end up paying close to the $300, receiving only small discounts on prescriptions I've had filled and used the app Needy Meds on to receive a discount. 

(Please note that when I wrote this we were on our third need. Since then we have added a fourth need, my daughter's food sensitivities.)

Q: "My concern when looking into it was that we would have tons of expenses that are under the threshold. I think our kids' sick visits are usually right under that. I wasn't sure how I could budget for that. So I guess the question is, do you have lots of expenses under the need threshold? And how do you budget for that?" (Taken from a Facebook question)
A: We do have some. There are multiple ways we could go about this. First of all, the $405 we pay per month is much less than the amount we would be paying with insurance, so we could easily set aside the difference for our doctors appointments, supplements, etc. 

For us, we had money in an HSA when we first joined Samaritan, so we chose to simply use that as our money towards doctors appointments. Every few years we have put one of our extra paychecks towards health needs, and that has been sufficient for us. 

Also when people join because of us and write us down as their referral, we get $180 off our next month's share. We put that $180 towards doctor appointments, supplements, etc.

Q: Any other thoughts on how this has made sense financially? 
A: I cannot say enough how BLESSED we have been through Samaritan. Truly blessed. 

Here's a simple example: My oldest daughter Lilleigh has been dealing with food sensitivities. There is a variety of testing you can do for this, but I kept hearing great things about a specific naturopath who uses the Asyra machine to scan your body for sensitivities (along with anything else that may be going on). I took it upon myself to book an appointment with this naturopath. Lilleigh's appointments to see our naturopath and the supplements she's been prescribed by her are all covered. We do pay the initial $300, but that's it. Insurance would not have covered a naturopath, in my experience. Plus, our deductible was much higher than $300 when we were on insurance, so even if they had covered a naturopath, we would have had to pay $5000 before the insurance kicked in. While this need won't come close to $5000, it is definitely already over $300, and we have few more appointments to go, at least.

A more complex example: I've been very open about my health issues I've had going on. I'm currently being treated for thyroid and adrenal issues. I started by seeing a hormone specialist, who did not accept insurance. He ran many tests, and his office visits were not cheap. A couple months in, I sought a second opinion from the doctor I am currently seeing. This doctor does accept insurance. She ran many more tests and came to a different conclusion. At the same time, I decided to see a naturopath, who I knew could scan my body to confirm what we thought was going on and also to see if there was anything we were missing. Insurance generally does not cover naturopaths. In addition to office visits, this naturopath also prescribed me many supplements to get my body back on track. Every doctor I saw was at least $250 for the initial appointment and not much lower than that for follow-ups. Add in my labs, four months of my crazy amount of supplements, a couple of prescriptions, and we are currently looking at a few thousand dollars of medical bills that Samaritan is covering. Y'all, on insurance, I would have had to pay for two of these medical professionals out of pocket completely. Supplements definitely would not have been covered. My couple of prescriptions would have been discounted. And anything that insurance might have been able to cover, such as my current doctor and those labs, still falls below the threshold. So right now we would be looking at around $3,000 in medical bills to pay from savings, and I have many more appointments and supplements to go. I was unable to receive many discounts since most of these doctors are cash pay anyway, but the prescriptions were discounted by $10 here or $20 there, which means we are paying a little less than $300 for this need. We will be budgeting for supplements beyond the four month mark, and that expectation seems really reasonable to us.

More numbers to offer a big picture perspective: I've mentioned that we have had four needs in a little over two years. These have been a trip to the ER for a severe stomach bug, our miscarriage, my thyroid/adrenal issues, and food sensitivities. We are paying less than $600 for all four. 

Q: Do you worry about something BIG coming up, like one of you getting cancer or some disease that requires a hefty treatment plan?

A: Honestly, no. Part of being in the Save to Share program means any need over $250,000 will be divvied up among those in the Save to Share program. There are cancer cases, of course. That's a big question I get. There are big surgeries and life-threatening illnesses. My family's needs are a blip in what Samaritan sees. They're "easy" needs. I would STRONGLY ENCOURAGE you to sign up for Save to Share if you are considering Samaritan. The amount extra that you save is minimal, and that $399 per year is money well spent should you ever need it. 

Q: How have you been blessed by being a member of Samaritan Ministries?

A: Oops I kinda answered this above. But I'll say it again. We are so very grateful for Samaritan. I'm not sure you could ever twist our arms enough to get us to switch back to normal insurance so long as Samaritan is an option. 

Q: What are the drawbacks? 

A: If you have a pre-existing condition, this is not covered. If you have a pre-existing condition that is still requiring a lot of maintenance and treatment, you may want to weigh the cost of something like Samaritan with your current insurance plan. 

Please please send any questions my way! I am here to chat! All I ask is that if you join Samaritan because of this blog post, please do write us, Brendon and Ashleigh Lankford, as your referral. This post has taken forever, so please 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Adeline at 2-1/2!

This girl keeps me on my toes. She also keeps me embraced in her arms for "mommy-only" snuggles! 

She has courage. High slides aren't a problem.

This picture was taken at The Heard wildlife sanctuary and museum. They have large, fierce looking dinosaurs there that roar. Adeline hates them. She's actually been having nightmares about the "monsters from the Heard" lately. That poor girl. And poor mommy and daddy since we are the ones up with her. Yawn.

Yesterday we sang our Joshua 1:9 song, prayed for a peaceful night, and made a "no monsters/ dinosaurs allowed" sign for her door. Last night she slept through the entire night. Praying that lasts!

She still takes good 2-hour naps. Sometimes longer, but usually right around 2. Mommy loves good sleepers.

We love Pei Wei! This weekend I took just Adeline on a date to Pei Wei. So special! We went to the park to swing afterwards. Adeline's favorite thing to do might be to swing.

The girls love their teepee they got for Christmas from Papa Larry! It's been such a fun fort, readingnook, nap time hideout... 

Adeline is also full of energy and will. She is strong-willed, so discipline is something we are having to stay on top of.

I love this precious girl to the moon and back!!

PS I thought I posted this post and the one on Lilleigh awhile ago, but alas they were still in my drafts. Publishing now! 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Lilleigh at age five

Lilleigh turned five a couple weeks ago, and it has been so fun to see how she uniquely God has made her. Here's just a glimpse into Lilleigh at five...

I love seeing how grown up and independent Lilleigh is becoming each day! This is really a beautiful thing. As the oldest, she leads, and Adeline follows. I feel a whole new season being ushered in, and I love it. Lil can help Adeline with so many tasks that for so long I had to help with. The girls can play in the front yard, near the house, while I'm in the front room. They come out of their room in the morning when the Ok To Wake clock lights up. And my personal favorite- on weekend mornings, I can have clementines, waters, and muffins out at the little table, and Lilleigh can open the muffin container for Adeline and herself to eat breakfast while Mom and Dad sleep in just a little bit. Winning.

We've talked a lot lately about not having "best friends." (We are in THAT phase!) Inevitably we have friends we enjoy more than others, but I've never been a huge fan of the phrase "best friends" because it's so exclusive. However, the exception I make is with your sister (or brother, but that's not the case here). Since Adeline was born, I've always told Lilleigh that Adeline is her best friend and to be sweet to her. The way Lilleigh plays with Adeline and calls Adeline her "best buddy" makes me smile. We always play together no matter what, even when other friends come over. I pray these two would always be best buddies. 

Lilleigh is really into dressing herself. She comes out of her room aa quite the fashionista some days. I've told her she can have two outfits per day - no more. (The laundry pile needs to remain manageable.) If we are going somewhere, Momma gets a say in what she's wearing, but if we are home, she can wear whatever she wants! It's fun seeing her personality come through and what she likes and doesn't.

Lilleigh loves these little toys called Palace Pets. They're a recent obsession, thanks to her sweet friend McKinley! She takes one everywhere with her. She's holding it below in a photo taken from the zoo. I'm not sure what I was thinking letting her take it to the zoo, but the palace pet made it home with us - yay!

Recently Lilleigh has had quite the list of dietary restrictions, as we try to pin point her food sensitivities and heal her gut. She's been such a trooper. I took dairy away from myself for a week, trying to self diagnose my own hormone issues, and I hated every minute of it. But Lilleigh has had such a happy attitude about her list. And it's a hard one too! There's so much to say here, but the bottom line is she's been very mature about it all.

Speaking of mature, the other day she spent 20 minutes putting perler beads on a shape. (Those iron-on bead things) Our sweet 20-month-old neighbor came over and accidentally knocked it over. Lilleigh just sat there staring. I'm not sure if she wanted to yell or to cry, but she calmly just looked at me, searching for what to do. I said, "oh honey it was an accident. I know you worked so hard on that. Let's pick it all up and set you up a spot in your room where you can redo this, and it won't get knocked over." She went right along with this plan. I was so impressed that she didn't have an outburst or get upset at that. She redid it without any issues. I praised her for it later. I was so proud of her self-control and maturity!

This girl's mind is sharp as ever and constantly turning. Lil continues to be a rule follower and lets me know when Adeline or anyone else is out of line. She also never ceases to surprise me with her thoughtful questions (sometimes too many 😊). She's eager to learn, and as a homeschooling momma, I love that. 

I'm sure there's a ton more I could say about this girl, but my brain doesn't function as quickly as hers these days... 😉 I'm off to bed. Nighty, night.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Birthday and a Wedding!

Lilleigh turned 5! (Which is so hard to believe by the way - 5 seems so old to me!) And that same weekend one of my sweet friends got married in Houston. Since all of our family is in Houston, this made going to Houston on Lil's birthday, and finding super fun birthday plans for her, an easy job! 

We had a donuts at the playground birthday party Saturday morning! 

Pappy and Marla took all the girls, Morgan too :), to Benihana to celebrate Lil's birthday Saturday night! It sounded like they had a blast!

As for me and Brendon, we had wedding festivities pretty much the rest of the weekend! Since Blakely has always been more like a sister, it was really fun to watch her walk down the aisle and to celebrate with her.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Health update!

After updating close friends and family from doctors appointments and blood tests a couple weeks ago, I'm now realizing - via your texts and emails - that many of you are wanting a health update too! Thank you for loving us well! Here's the cliff notes.

My naturopath, Brenda, and my internist, Dr. C, both agree that my adrenals are fatigued. This showed up on my saliva cortisol test and on my Asyra reading. I also have some vitamin deficiencies - thank you to five years of being pregnant or nursing! (By the way, if you're nursing and doubting whether you really need to take all three of your prenatals, you do. You're welcome.) 

My blood tests were really great! I was pretty much negative (in a good way) for everything I was tested for. And at this point I've been tested for pages and pages of tests, vials and vials of blood. No autoimmune diseases showed up - a huge praise!

So what does all this mean? Basically vitamins, adrenals, thyroid, and progesterone deficiency are all related. (For all of you non-biology people - ahem, me! - I'll explain. You need vitamins for your endocrine system to work properly. If your adrenals - think cortisol - are drained, this affects your thyroid, slowing down its activity. Since the thyroid controls hormones, a drop in progesterone is not surprising. Progesterone is useful for sleeping, getting pregnant, and staying pregnant.) Now then. Since they are all related, my symptoms make sense. My adrenals are also producing cortisol in the middle of the night during the two weeks when I desperately need progesterone to keep me sleeping soundly. And there you have insomnia. 

The vitamin deficiency, as odd as it seems, is actually an answered prayer! Ever since I read that vitamin deficiency could cause thyroid and progesterone issues, I've been praying that would be my issue. Why? Because it's so fixable!

Everything Dr C and Brenda have said make sense. The first doctor I saw was all about treating the thyroid, but my question I kept asking was, "WHY do I have a thyroid issue??" It didn't make sense in my mind. All of these new answers make sense. They don't negate the thyroid, but they do explain it.

So now that we have answers, what am I doing to help? I'm on several adrenal supplements and vitamins to get me back up to where I need to be. I'm trying to slow down in life as much as I can. I frequent the sauna - it's amazing for your body for so many reasons, and sleep is my favorite! After going to the sauna, I sleep like a rock. Brendon is the one getting up with the kids if there's an issue in the middle of the night. It's amazing. 

As for my thyroid, I plan to have it watched. Once my adrenals heal and my body has adequate vitamins, my thyroid should speed up a little too. That is the hope anyway!

Since starting my new routine, I have noticed a difference! I feel so much better, namely I haven't noticed my heart racing in a few weeks. And I'm sleeping better! I still have fatigue during the day. I also still have quite the sleep regime. Don't be fooled, sleeping better does not equal sleeping amazing unassisted. I have about ten things I must do in order to ensure a good night's sleep, but they are all things I feel comfortable using (read: natural). And the hope is that my body will heal and kick into gear so I'm producing progesterone again and sleeping soundly. 

Y'all there are huge praises here! Thank you for coming along side us and praying with us! We are so thankful for you and your support of me and our family! 

If you still want to pray, here's how you can join us in prayer --
Pray for complete healing and rest for my body.
For knowing what is overdoing it and what I need to say "no" to. In other words, what is my "best yes" in this season? 
Contentment in the healing and the waiting. We are blessed to have two kids, and yet honestly we thought we would have more by now. But being content where God has us currently is a beautiful thing! 
We are not promised more children, yet we pray God would allow us to have more some day. Selfishly, I'd prefer sooner than later. (We are waiting until I'm well to even consider trying. Patience can be such a hard thing.)
Also for continued answers and guidance as we need it.


Monday, February 1, 2016

A Snowy Good Time in Colorado

We went to visit Brendon's grandparents in Colorado last weekend. Time with them was so special. 

Adeline loves airplanes, so going to the airport and seeing planes, let alone riding on one, was super exciting!

Then while we were there the girls had a blast with Grandma and PaPa. It was so sweet to see PaPa act like a monster and chase Adeline around as she screamed with delight. Adeline also managed to get Grandma to toss the balloon around with her.

Both girls really enjoyed the half door and pretending to be Starbucks baristas. (The fact that they play "Starbucks" is slightly embarrassing. But hey, there's a reason everyone got me Starbucks cards for Christmas! Thank you, by the way!)

The girls loved the snow! Brendon and Lilleigh made a snow slide that we all took turns sliding down with the trash can lid. Both girls loved making snow angels. Adeline enjoyed the snow but was ready to come in once she was cold. Lilleigh really loved playing in the snow though and spent a good deal of time out there! 

I tried to get a picture of Brendon and the girls with the grandparents. Anyone notice how hard a group picture (with everyone smiling) is? I must have 20 on my phone! 

Till next time!