Health
3:47 pm
Fri August 31, 2012

Kentucky Lawmaker Pushes Measure to Allow Medi-Share

A Christians-only health care ministry that's battling in court for the right to continue operating in Kentucky could get a reprieve from the Legislature. Sen. Tom Buford, chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, has drafted legislation to eliminate a legal impediment that has left the future of the Medi-Share program in question in Kentucky.

Buford, R-Nicholasville, said he decided to intervene because he sees lower-cost programs like Medi-Share as viable alternatives to traditional health insurance in some cases. He wants to protect plans like Medi-Share, which helps pay medical bills for churchgoers who pledge to live Christian lives that include no smoking, drinking, using drugs or engaging in sex outside of marriage.

"It just does not make sense to challenge people who offer an affordable plan," Buford said. "This is obviously more affordable than other insurance plans that are out there on the market."

The Kentucky Department of Insurance has had the Florida-based ministry in court for the past 10 years and is now asking for a contempt of court order.

Medi-Share has continued to operate in Kentucky even after the state Supreme Court ruled that it is subject to the same regulations as secular health care plans. The decision could force the organization to serve non-Christians and provide costly coverage of pre-existing conditions.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate said Thursday he expects to rule within 10 to 15 days on the Department of Insurance motion to hold Medi-Share in contempt.

The Legislature doesn't convene again until January, so it will be several months before lawmakers could intervene.

Medi-Share and Kentucky are battling over how tightly the state can regulate a Christian health care ministry that serves nearly 40,000 people in 49 states, including 800 in Kentucky.

Medi-Share, operated by Christian Care Ministry of Melbourne, Fla., insists participants aren't buying insurance, but are involved in a charitable endeavor to help cover medical bills of fellow Christians and potentially have their own expenses covered should the need arise.

Christian Care Ministry President Tony Meggs testified Thursday that Medi-Share no longer collects contributions from participants into a central account like secular insurance companies do. Instead, Meggs said, participants make contributions into their own accounts at American Christian Credit Union. When Christians need money to pay medical bills, he said, money is transferred directly between member accounts, bypassing a central fund pool that was in existence at the time of the Supreme Court ruling.

Instead of a contempt order, Medi-Share wants Wingate to order the Department of Insurance to conduct an administrative hearing so that staffers can explain changes that have been made that exempt the ministry from state regulations.