Christian insurance participants losing coverage

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Members of a Christians-only health insurance plan will lose their coverage on Thursday under a judge's order to cease operations.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate found that Medi-Share doesn't comply with Department of Insurance regulations and won't be allowed to operate in Kentucky.

That means some 800 Kentuckians have only one more day of coverage.

"We just don't think the Department of Insurance or Judge Wingate thought through the reality that you have 800 people now that, overnight, have nothing," said Medi-Share President Tony Meggs. "The state, with Medi-Share, should come together to provide some type of transition for these people."

Meggs said members of the Christian health plan were being notified Tuesday that the program ends Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Meggs said attorneys are urging Wingate to reconsider the abrupt end to the program in Kentucky to allow time for members to find other insurance coverage.

In a letter to Wingate, Medi-Share participant Ellen Johns urged him to protect the ministry. Johns, who works in a Louisville chiropractic office, said Medi-Share is helping to pay medical expenses for her child who will require medical treatment for the next year.

"If it were not for Medi-Share sharing these expenses with us, we would not be able to afford these treatments for our baby girl," Johns said.

Medi-Share closely resembles secular insurance, but only allows participation by churchgoers who pledge to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex outside of marriage.

The Department of Insurance had notified Medi-Share participants earlier this month to get different policies immediately. That move followed Wingate's ruling that Medi-Share, a Florida-based cost-sharing ministry, doesn't meet the state's insurance code.

The Department of Insurance provided a list of insurers that could provide individual coverage to Medi-Share members.

In a decade-long legal battle, Kentucky officials have been in the unenviable position of pushing to regulate a Christian ministry in a Bible belt state. The Department of Insurance took the case to court because of concerns that some Christians might mistakenly believe they're paying into an insurance plan that guarantees coverage if they're hospitalized. Medi-Share offers no such guarantee.

Medi-Share contends that its 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.

Meggs testified in August that the group has helped arrange for Christians across the country to pay some $25 million in medical bills for Kentucky participants over the past 10 years.

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