On Monday, the House and Senate committees passed legislation that exempts Health Care Sharing Ministries from state insurance laws. These ministries, which are not health insurance, will be allowed to operate without being subject to the regulations that apply to traditional insurance companies.
The bill, known as the Health Care Sharing Ministries Freedom to Share Act, was introduced in the Senate as SB 375 and handled by the Banking and Insurance committee. A Health Care Sharing Ministry is a group of individuals who agree to help each other with medical expenses through contributions. The ministry is limited to members who share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs.
Participants of a sharing ministry may contribute amounts with no promise to pay by the ministry or among the participants. It’s up to the members to pay their own bills. Public higher education institutions that require health insurance must recognize a student’s membership in a sharing ministry in lieu of insurance.
Senate committee counsel informed senators that 31 states already have health care sharing ministries in code and recognize them as not health insurance. The bill simply codifies this recognition for West Virginia’s insurance commissioner, who has already recognized these ministries as not health insurance companies.
Last year, the bill passed out of the Senate as SB 292 with a 27-1 vote but it died in the House Judiciary committee. This year, the House version HB 4809 was approved by the House Judiciary committee in a unanimous voice vote after just over a minute of discussion. The full House will now consider this bill before it can become law.