Proposal would let Christian health ministry resume operations in Kentucky

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comFebruary 10, 2013 

FRANKFORT — A bill that would allow a Christian health care ministry to resume operating in Kentucky could get a hearing Tuesday, the bill's sponsor said.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said Senate Bill 3 would exempt Medi-Share, a Christian-only health care plan, from the state's insurance laws. Christian Care Ministries, which administers the health plan, would be required to tell subscribers that it is not an insurance company.

The bill is expected to get a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, which Buford chairs.

A judge forced Medi-Share to tell more than 700 members that it no longer could provide health benefit services in Kentucky starting Jan. 1.

The decision came after a more than decade-long legal battle with the Kentucky Department of Insurance over whether the religious-based health sharing plan was actually an insurance company.

Medi-Share closely resembles secular insurance but allows participation only by people who pledge to live Christian lives that include no smoking, drinking, abusing drugs or engaging in sex outside of marriage.

The membership decides what health procedures are covered by the Medi-Share plan, but there is no guarantee that an individual's medical bills will be paid.

The Kentucky Department of Insurance said it was concerned that Medi-Share members might think the plan would pay for all their medical bills. The agency argued that the plan should be regulated as insurance.

A judge sided with the Department of Insurance.

That has left the Rev. Dewayne Walker of Mount Olivet Baptist Church of Lexington in a pinch. He has been a Medi-Share member for 12 years, during which time the plan paid all of his wife's bills when she went through cancer treatment in 2010.

"They had a representative call me every week to see how we were doing," Walker said. "What insurance company does that?"

He and his wife are now shopping for health insurance. Because his wife has a pre-existing condition, insurance for both would be about $900 a month, he said, more than double what he paid Medi-Share.

"It's a hardship," Walker said. "Other states allow it. This is what we have chosen and we're happy with it."

Buford said he expected SB 3, which has 14 co-sponsors, to have little resistance in the Republican-led Senate.

"Forty eight other states don't have a problem with it," Buford said of Medi-Share.

He said Medi-Share was exempt from regulation under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will require people to have health insurance beginning in 2014.

The Kentucky Department of Insurance has not taken a stance on Buford's legislation.

"At this point, the department has not been asked for its input on SB 3 but would welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue with interested parties," said Ronda Sloan, a department spokeswoman. "We are open to discussing changes to the existing statute that would maintain regulatory oversight and protection for our consumers."

Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, chairman of the House Banking and Insurance Committee, said he had not seen SB 3 and could not comment on its chances of getting a hearing in the Democratic-led House.

Beth Musgrave: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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