Bill that may broaden health-care ministry participants heads to Scott

  • Christine Sexton
  • News Service of Florida
6:35 p.m Thursday, March 8, 2018 Politics

A bill that could increase enrollment in health-care sharing ministries was passed late Wednesday by the Florida House and is headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

The House passed the measure (SB 660) by an 89-27 vote, with opposition coming from Democrats who expressed concerns that the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation doesn’t regulate the sharing arrangements. The Senate voted unanimously to pass the bill earlier in the session.

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Health-care sharing ministries are an alternative to health insurance that have grown since the passage of the federal health-care law commonly known as Obamacare. They have been exempt from Florida’s insurance code since 2008 and limit participation to people who share the same religious beliefs. The bill would broaden current law to include people with the same set of ethical or religious beliefs.

It also would require an annual, independent audit; monthly statements to participants; and much clearer notice to prospective participants that the ministry is not an insurer. While the current law requires participant-to-participant payment, the bill also would allow payments to be made from a common fund of participant-donated money.

House bill sponsor Thad Altman, R-Indialantic, did not know how many additional people may be eligible for coverage under the changes. And when Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, asked about complaints and where people could file them, Altman said the organizations were “self-regulating.”

The bill, if signed by Scott, would benefit some large health-care ministries, including Melbourne-based Christian Care Ministries and its health care cost-sharing program known as Medi-Share.

Last year, Medi-Share, which promotes itself as “God-honoring healthcare” served 300,000 members nationwide who agreed to attest to a “statement of faith” that, among other things, said the Bible is “God’s written revelation to man and is verbally inspired.”

People who obtain coverage agree to not use illegal drugs, alcohol or tobacco and refrain from having sex outside of marriage or abusing legal drugs.

Members of ministries, such as Medi-Share, pay monthly membership fees or contributions. According to Med-Share’s website, the share is matched monthly with other people’s medical bills. Members know each month whose “eligible” bills they are helping to pay.

The health-care law contains a provision exempting ministries that meet certain requirements from having to comply with the law, which banned insurance companies from medically underwriting and required them to provide access to birth control.

Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries President Dave Weldon said membership in the arrangements has ‘grown substantially” since the federal law passed and that 968,662 people nationwide participate, including an estimated 56,000 Florida residents.

Medi-Share, which is one of the three largest health-care sharing ministries nationwide, had revenues of $90.3 million in 2017, an increase from $61.5 million in the previous year.

Weldon, a former Republican congressman, attributed the growth in membership to people who are ideologically opposed to requirements of the federal law, which required insurance companies to offer a comprehensive set of benefits, including contraceptives, although the Trump administration has rolled back the requirement.