A Christian cost-sharing ministry set up to help cover medical costs for churchgoers is not an insurance program and doesn’t claim to be, the head of the American Evangelical Association testified last week.
E. John Reinhold said the cost-sharing ministry, known as Medi-Share, is careful not to use terms associated with the insurance industry in its publications so that people won’t be confused.
Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate is expected to rule in December on whether Medi-Share should be permitted to continue operations in Kentucky.
The state has had a long-standing legal dispute with the Medi-Share program, which helps Christians pay for medical care. The program, which is supported by contributions from churchgoers, is based on the Biblical belief that Christians should take care of one another’s needs.
Reinhold, chief executive officer of the American Evangelical Association, said the program has grown from $23 million in gross revenues in the 2002 fiscal year to $42.8 million in the 2005 fiscal year. Medi-Share is a part of Reinhold’s organization.
Wingate is presiding over a two-day bench trial, after which he will give attorneys for both sides 45 days to submit written arguments concerning a motion by the Kentucky Office of Insurance for a permanent injunction against Medi-Share.
Rick Masters, an attorney for Medi-Share, said the organization isn’t an insurer and is not subject to the same regulations as insurance companies. However, he said, even if the judge disagrees with that, the group is exempt from state regulations under a measure passed by the Kentucky General Assembly about a decade ago.
Medi-Share, based in Melbourne, Fla., excludes non-Christians because 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.
“If we discover that the person has left the faith, they wouldn’t be eligible for the program,” Reinhold testified on Wednesday.
“The program makes every effort to verify the Christian testimony” of participants, he said.
Masters has said the organization has 19,000 participating households, representing about 50,000 people. He said 300 of those households are in Kentucky.
Vicki Glass, spokeswoman for the Kentucky attorney general’s office, said her office has investigated no complaints.
The state Office of Insurance has warned in public statements that Medi-Share isn’t health insurance, and that they might have to pay their own medical bills if the organization fails to meet its financial obligations.
The Christian Care Ministry, according to its Web site, was organized in July of 1993 as a division of the American Evangelistic Association, a group made up of churches, pastors, missionaries and trained laity.
Kentucky, according to the Web site, is one of seven states that doesn’t require such organizations to operate under the regulations that govern insurance companies. But the organizations are required to publish a disclaimer saying the medical plan “is not issued by an insurance company nor is it offered through an insurance company.”
The disclaimer goes on to say “whether anyone chooses to pay your medical bills will be totally voluntary” and that the program “should never be considered a substitute for an insurance policy.”
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