A Christians-only health plan that serves nearly 20,000 churchgoers nationwide can continue operating in Kentucky, a judge ruled Thursday.
Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas D. Wingate said the Medi-Share program isn’t insurance and therefore doesn’t violate the state’s insurance laws.
The Kentucky Office of Insurance had asked Wingate to ban the program because it is not subject to the same laws and regulations that govern conventional health insurance companies.
Medi-Share, which is supported by contributions from participating churchgoers, is based on the biblical belief that Christians should take care of one another’s needs.
Richard Masters, a Louisville attorney representing Medi-Share, said the plan is simply a cost-sharing program, not insurance. Masters said he was pleased the judge recognized that.
“This is a religious ministry which voluntarily shares needs among its members,” Masters said. “Because of that, no risk is shifted from anyone who incurs a medical bill to anyone else. That never happens in our ministry.”
The program excludes non-Christians because, organizers say, their lifestyles can result in unnecessary medical care. Participants can’t smoke, use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol. They’re also not allowed to enroll if they have pre-existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
Medi-Share, based in Melbourne, Fla., publishes a disclaimer that says it doesn’t guarantee the payment of medical bills and that it should never be considered a substitute for an insurance policy. Even so, Reinhold said Medi-Share grew from $23 million in gross revenues in 2002 to $42.8 million in 2005, and now serves 19,000 families, including about 300 in Kentucky.
Attorneys for the Office of Insurance had argued that the judge should bar the cost-sharing program from Kentucky because people are paying monthly premiums for what they may believe to be insurance, yet they have no guarantee that their medical bills will be paid.
Ronda Sloan, spokeswoman for the Office of Insurance, cautioned consumers that participating in a “sharing” program like Medi-Share is not the same as having a policy issued by an insurance company. Sloan said state regulators will not be able to assist if medical expenses are not paid.
E. John Reinhold, head of the American Evangelical Association, testified in a trial last year that the cost-sharing ministry is careful not to use terms associated with the insurance industry in its publications so that people won’t be confused. It also publishes a disclaimer to inform recipients that it is not an insurance plan.