Okla. Commissioner: Faith-based Benefit Firm Considered an Insurer

March 16, 2007

A Tulsa, Okla.-based Christian organization that pools member money to pay medical bills, but says it isn’t an insurance company, is still going to be treated like one, a state official said.

Medi-Share, a Christian Care ministry of the mission-driven American Evangelical Association, will have to prove to the state it can cover claims that members file, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland said Mar. 14.

“If it looks like a rose and smells like a rose, then it’s a rose,” Holland said. “We are going to treat Medi-Share like an insurance company.”

But Robert Baldwin, the group’s president, said his organization has no money on reserve other than members’ shared dollars being processed before going to pay a medical bill. Baldwin said he would not comment directly until he is contacted by the Oklahoma Insurance Commission.

Oklahoma Insurance Code has not historically applied to Medi-Share because it was considered a religious group that helped members with health-care costs but does not promise to pay or assume risk for those costs.

But District Judge Joe Vassar decided recently that wasn’t the case, ruling earlier this month that Medi-Share was “involved in the offering of contracts for insurance” and wasn’t exempt from state Insurance Department regulation.

Judges in four other states have made similar rulings, but Baldwin said Medi-Share still operates in those states: South Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Montana.

He said the group would likely appeal the court’s decision.

“We do believe the ability for Christians to share medical bills on a nonprofit, noninsurance basis should be preserved,” he said.

Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com.

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