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Health Share Ministries Face Growing Chorus of Complaints and Lawsuits

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It sounds like a great deal, especially at a time when millions of unemployed Americans are losing health coverage. Save thousands of dollars a year on insurance premiums by joining fellow believers in Christian health share ministries that pool member dues to cover your medical bills.

But that’s not how things always turn out for some of the estimated 1 to 1.5 million Americans who have signed up. A California woman’s pre-approved spinal surgery was not covered, leaving her with $125,000 in bills.

A Missouri man who bought a health share plan through an insurance broker saw his hernia surgery claim denied. A federal lawsuit filed in April claims one health share group “sold inherently unfair and deceptive health care plans to Missouri residents, and failed to provide them with the coverage the purchasers believed they would receive.”

Other members say claims have been denied for breast cancer surgery, leukemia treatments, and even routine doctor visits.

Ministry Watch reported on the growing chorus of complaints last December, but the chorus continues to grow.

On Tuesday (Oct. 20), New York accused Georgia-based ministry Trinity Healthshare, and its for-profit marketing arm, Aliera, saying the company “aggressively marketed and sold their products to consumers in the health insurance marketplace, preying on people who were uninsured and deceiving consumers into paying hundreds of dollars per month for what they were led to believe was comprehensive health coverage.”

Trinity/Aliera is also facing lawsuits and/or regulatory action in Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, Texas, New Hampshire, and Nevada that claim it has deceived many consumers into buying what they thought was insurance that would cover their claims.

These actions have led older, more established health share ministries to gang up against Trinity/Aliera, claiming it’s a “sham” and the lone bad apple in the bunch. “Unfortunately, bad actors in any industry cause confusion in the marketplace,” said a spokesman for Medi-Share/Christian Care Ministry. But Colorado’s Division of Insurance says it has received complaints about Medi-Share, which does not report on how many claims it has denied.

The fact remains that health share groups operate in an unregulated legal gray zone. They are under no legal obligation to ever pay anyone anything. They face no external accountability for the important decisions they render. And they are highly organized in their opposition to legislation that would provide consumers with the same kinds of oversight insurance companies face.

After New Hampshire ordered Trinity/Aliera to stop issuing new plans or renewing coverage last October, the company claimed it was the victim of “state-sponsored discrimination” against its religious freedom, and said it would continue to fight “against government discrimination and regulatory overreach.”

These problems have cast a bad light on the entire sector, as Christianity Today reported this week in its story, “Health Care Sharing Ministries Fight for Legitimacy Amid Lawsuits.”

In addition, experts say health share ministries draw healthy individuals out of the larger market, leaving pools of policyholders with costlier claims. One Catholic ethicist said health share plans “tend to skew towards those who are the healthiest patients and sort of penalize people who are not in good physical healthy condition.”

Conservative Catholics are increasingly turning to health share options through groups like CMF Curo, which is part of the Christ Medicus Foundation, and which is financially integrated with the evangelical group, Samaritan Ministries International.

The Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, which includes Christian Care Ministry, told Christianity Today that it is working to develop an accreditation body that would independently review each ministry and offer a “Good Housekeeping seal” to those who comply.

But the Alliance remains steadfastly opposed to government oversight.

“In today’s society in which the federal government increasingly seeks to supersede or burden private charitable activities that benefit the common good of our communities, it is crucial that we advocate and work for the preservation of our God given rights,” says the Alliance’s website.

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Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.

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