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Washington’s Insurance Commissioner warns consumers: Beware of sham “health care ministry” plans

Imagine getting a hip transplant or treatment for a serious illness or emergency only to find that the health insurance you bought online wasn’t actually an insurance plan at all. Now you’re left with thousands of dollars of medical bills.

The Seattle Times and the Washington State Insurance Commissioner are warning consumers about so-called “health-care sharing ministries.” These ministries are faith-based cooperatives in which members agree to pay one another’s medical bills.

But Washington’s Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler says he’s received multiple complaints from consumers who thought they were buying health insurance and did not know they were joining a health care sharing ministry. Many people found out the difference when they submitted claims but were denied because their conditions were considered to be pre-existing and not covered under the plan.

“Legitimate health care sharing ministries offer a valuable service to their members,” Kreidler said in a news release. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing players out there trying to use the exemptions enjoyed by legitimate ministries to skirt insurance regulation and mislead trusting consumers. I want these outfits to know we’re on to them and we will hold them accountable.”

In May, Kreidler ordered Aliera Healthcare Inc. and Trinity Healthshare Inc. to stop selling health insurance and to stop “engaging in deceptive business practices” in Washington State.

Washington State investigators found neither Aliera nor Trinity are affiliated with a particular religious group, church or pastor. Aliera disputed the state’s conclusions in a statement released to The Seattle Times.

Insurance commissioners in other states have also raised concerns and are looking into these plans.

Have you or someone you know had an experience with a health sharing ministry? Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.