Overreaching regulators who turn a deaf ear to reason. Needless litigation. A waste of government resources and taxpayer money. No, these are not Gov. Steve Beshear’s statements regarding his administration’s fight with the Environmental Protection Agency over coal permits, but they are apt descriptions of the governor’s own Department of Insurance and its repeated and misguided attempts to stop a health care sharing ministry, known as Medi-Share, from operating in the commonwealth.
While health care sharing ministries may not be widely heard of, they play a vital role in allowing their members, many of whom are lower income, to meet their health care costs. Members of these religious organizations assist one another by sharing in the payment of each others unexpected medical expenses. According to the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, their members annually pay more than $120 million of each other’s medical bills.
By law, Kentucky, like 20 other states, has authorized health care sharing ministries to operate outside of the regulatory reach of the Department of Insurance as long as such ministries meet the law’s requirements. At the federal level, health care sharing ministries were even provided for in Obamacare, as the law exempts members of such ministries from the oft-referred-to “individual mandate,” which requires all Americans to purchase health insurance or face penalties in the form of taxes.
Medi-Share is a Florida-based health care sharing ministry that has been operating since the 1990s with no history of member complaints in Kentucky. Notwithstanding Medi-Share’s exemplary operating history, the Department of Insurance has been pursuing them as if they were bad actors of the worst kind, not a not-for-profit organization that assists many who likely would have no other means of providing for their health care expenses, absent relying on Kentucky’s Medicaid program, if health care sharing did not exist.
At issue is Medi-Share’s compliance with the Kentucky statute that exempts sharing ministries from the Department of Insurance’s regulation. In 2010 the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that Medi-Share’s operations, as they were conducted in 2006, did not meet the statute’s requirements. However, after 2006, and long before the Kentucky Supreme Court issued its 2010 ruling, Medi-Share members voted to change the way that they share in the payment of each other’s medical bills.
This change might have brought an end to the dispute, one would think, and have saved countless hours of work, resources and taxpayer money, not to mention the time and effort of the Kentucky Supreme Court. However, the Department of Insurance refused to meet with Medi-Share to learn of its changed operations because of a policy that only a bureaucrat could love, that is, the Department of Insurance will not meet with another party while in the midst of a dispute. Consider this position for a moment: no dispute would ever be amicably resolved if the parties refused to negotiate in the midst of the dispute. We would still be fighting the Revolutionary War if those running the Department of Insurance were in charge in 1776.
Regardless, Medi-Share believes that its changed operations bring it into compliance with Kentucky’s statute. The Kentucky Department of Insurance disagrees and ordered Medi-Share to cease operating in the commonwealth. Pursuant to a Kentucky statute that allows anyone “aggrieved by an act” of the Department of Insurance to request an administrative hearing, Medi-Share requested such a hearing. Notwithstanding the clear language of the statute, the Kentucky Department of Insurance refuses to grant Medi-Share’s request for an administrative hearing and is actively opposing Medi-Share’s attempts to secure an administrative hearing from the Franklin Circuit Court.
Gov. Beshear’s own Department of Insurance is clearly giving the EPA a run for its money.
Medi-Share has shown itself to be a good actor. In close to two decades of operations in Kentucky, there is no indication that they do anything other than what they claim to do, which is to bring people together to share in the payment of unexpected medical costs. At issue is compliance with the technical provisions of a statute. Why is the Department of Insurance not meeting with Medi-Share to discuss compliance with the statute? Only those inside the Department know, but the public records indicate that the people making the decisions at the department have no interest in amicable resolution, when that is exactly what is called for in this situation.
Martin Cothran is senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation.