Health Care Sharing Ministries Should Be Protected

A goal of our healthcare system should be to give patients safe and convenient options for accessing treatment. While traditional health insurance is most common and meets the needs of many, it is not the only way to pay for health care. Health care sharing is one of those options, and ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force has developed model policies like the Health Care Sharing Ministries Freedom to Share Act. Unfortunately, this health care option has been the target of overly eager regulation in some states.

Health care sharing ministries (HCSM) allow members (who typically share a common religious or ethical belief) to share health care expenses. Members typically pay a monthly amount, often less than an insurance premium, that covers the expenses of other members. HCSMs are not based on employment, and membership follows regardless of employment status. Other advantages include the ability to join at any time and the ability to choose health care providers without having to worry about in-network status.

The Affordable Care Act recognized the benefits of these ministries and included a “safe harbor” clause that clarified health care sharing is not health insurance and that it should not be treated or regulated as such. Thirty states have passed similar safe harbor provisions. Utah is currently considering a safe harbor provision (SB31) with extra regulations, requiring all HCSMs to register and regularly share data with the state Department of Insurance to fall under the safe harbor provision.

HCSMs are charities already governed by the state Attorney General. Requiring an additional layer of bureaucracy is overly burdensome and runs afoul of constitutional precedent. This isn’t a problem with transparency. Most HCSMs are very transparent and allow their members access to financial data. In addition to the burdensome regulation, the constant monitoring of religious organizations by states is not allowed under constitutional law.

Protecting these ministries and their freedom is important for states like Utah, where 10,000 patients participate in an HCSM. Safe harbors are a good thing, but not at the cost of constitutional freedoms and more regulation.

In Depth: Health

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