Senate panel approves insurance exemption for Christian health ministry

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comFebruary 12, 2013 

State Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville

FRANKFORT — The Rev. Daniel Swartz struggled to find insurance that would cover his wife after the state ordered a Christian health care ministry to cease operations on Jan. 1.

Swartz's wife is a cancer survivor. Other insurance companies declined to cover her, Swartz told the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Tuesday. "They would cover me but they would not cover her," said Swartz, from Cadiz.

Swartz said he and his wife had considered moving to one of the 48 states that allow Medi-Share to operate before finding another Christian health plan that would cover the family.

On Tuesday, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 3, which would grant Medi-Share an exemption from the state's insurance laws. The bill also would require Medi-Share to tell members that it was not an insurance company and did not guarantee that all medical bills would be paid.

Medi-Share sought the exemption after a more than decade-long legal battle with the Kentucky Department of Insurance over whether it should be regulated by the state as an insurance company. A judge sided with the Kentucky Department of Insurance and eventually ordered Medi-Share to cease operations in January, leaving more than 700 Kentucky Medi-Share members without a health insurance plan.

Medi-Share operates like an insurance company, but there are no guarantees that members' medical bills will be paid. Members pay a monthly fee that goes into an account. The money is electronically transferred to other members' accounts to pay medical expenses. Members pledge to live a Christian lifestyle that includes no smoking and no sex outside of marriage.

In addition to Medi-Share, two other Christian-care ministries operate in Kentucky.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, and sponsor of SB 3, said he knows of two Medi-Share members who are pregnant and can't get affordable insurance. Both women are due this summer, and without Medi-Share they will pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses for those deliveries.

Buford said he would like to put an emergency provision on the bill so if it does pass the House and Senate, it will take effect immediately after Gov. Steve Beshear signs the bill.

Swartz told committee members that if he had not found another Christian-care ministry to provide coverage for himself and his wife, he could not afford the medical bills.

"Just one bill and we're done," Swartz said of the medical bills. "We'd be out on the street."

The Kentucky Department of Insurance has not publicly said where it stands on the bill. Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, chairman of the House Banking and Insurance Committee, has said he has not seen Senate Bill 3 and could not comment on it.

Beth Musgrave: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: is an endnote here an dhdjbfv jhbdvf djfbvjd vhbdfjv jdbvf jdfjbvh jvfjkdbf

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