CHM for newbies: Illnesses, incidents and needs: what's the difference?

Editor’s note: This information was published in the May 2018 issue of Heartfelt Magazine, CHM’s monthly magazine that provides CHM membership-related tips and tricks, medical advice from doctors, testimonies from CHM members, and more. Please refer to the CHM Guidelines and applicable web pages for the most up-to-date information regarding CHM membership, sharing eligibility, and ministry news.

Illnesses, incidents, needs. If you’ve ever submitted medical bills to CHM, you’ve probably heard or read about one or more of these terms.

If you haven’t experienced medical problems—and we hope you never do—it’s still wise to read on. Doing so will make it easier for you if a health situation arises.


An illness is a diagnosis of an identified disease, injury or medical condition that may be treated once or multiple times (multiple incidents). CHM sharing limits are determined by illness. Members can receive up to $125,000 per illness in the regular sharing program and up to $1 million or more per illness by participating in the Brother’s Keeper program. (Brother’s Keeper sharing at the Gold level is unlimited; see our catastrophic bills page for more info.)


An incident is different from a diagnosis. An incident refers to testing or treatment, and multiple incidents can occur within a single diagnosis. An incident includes medical treatment or testing that lasts until one of the following occurs:

  • the medical condition is cured according to official medical records;
  • treatment is at a routine maintenance level; or
  • you experience 90 days without any treatment for that particular condition (testing or treatment must be an eligible expense at your chosen level of participation: Gold, Silver, or Bronze.)

The medical bills incurred from the first test to the last treatment before the doctor releases you to a regular, routine maintenance regimen are considered a single incident. If 90 days pass and you receive no further treatment, any future bills you incur will be considered a separate incident. CHM Personal Responsibility amounts for the Silver and Bronze programs are per incident. (The Gold program shares 100 percent of bills for any medical incident in which the total of eligible costs exceeds $500; to learn more, visit our Programs & costs page.)

Examples of illnesses and incidents

Example 1: Diabetes is an illness that can be treated at a maintenance level but can flare up and create an incident. The incident (medical bills related to the flare-up) has a definite start and end date; however, the illness can last throughout a lifetime.

Example 2: Your knee hurts so you go to the doctor, who orders an MRI. After viewing your test results, he diagnoses you with arthritis. He gives you a cortisone shot and your knee soon feels better. The diagnosis of arthritis in your knee is an illness. The medical examinations, testing and treatment you undergo is a single incident. Two years later, your knee starts to hurt again. You return to the doctor, who says your arthritis has flared up. He gives you another cortisone shot. After two weeks, you go back because it still hurts. He tells you that you need a knee replacement and schedules the surgery. You undergo surgery and physical therapy. After a few months, he gives you a clean bill of health. This scenario describes a second incident within the illness of arthritis in your knee.


A need is an individual, itemized medical bill. A need is categorized under a particular incident, which falls under a certain illness and diagnosis.

In the previous example describing the diagnosis (illness) of arthritis, there were two separate incidents because the patient received treatment for arthritis on two separate occasions. Likewise, within each incident there were separate needs (itemized bills).

(The following describes needs shared by CHM’s Gold program; Silver and Bronze members should consult the CHM Guidelines for guidance because not all bills listed below are eligible for sharing on those programs.)

In the first incident, the patient would likely have incurred separate needs (bills) from the initial doctor’s office visit, the hospital or clinic performing the MRI, and from the second doctor visit during which the cortisone shot was received.

In the second incident that occurred two years later, there would likely have been separate needs for:

  • the first doctor visit
  • the second doctor visit
  • surgery (bill from the hospital or clinic)
  • surgery (bill from the surgeon)
  • surgery (bill from the anesthesiologist)
  • pre- and/or post-operative prescriptions
  • physical therapy (multiple bills)
  • third doctor visit (follow-up and declaration of clean bill of health)

For more information on illnesses, incidents and needs, visit our Glossary page or see the glossary in the CHM Guidelines.

©2023 Christian Healthcare Ministries. All rights reserved.