Senate, House committees OK sister health care sharing ministry bills

Feb. 12—MORGANTOWN — Senate and House committees took up and approved bills on Monday creating the Health Care Sharing Ministries Freedom to Share Act.

The Senate's version is SB 375, handled by Banking and Insurance.

A Health Care Sharing Ministry is not health insurance and the bills exempt them from the state's insurance laws.

A sharing ministry serves as a facilitator among ministry members, who agree to assist other members with medical expenses through contributions. A ministry by definition limits its membership who share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs.

The ministry provides amounts that participants may contribute with no assumption of risk or promise to pay among the participants and no assumption of risk or promise to pay by the ministry. Members are responsible for paying their own bills.

A public higher education institution that requires health insurance must recognize a student's membership in a sharing ministry in lieu of insurance.

Committee counsel told the senators that 31 states already have health care sharing ministries in code and recognize that they are not health insurance. The West Virginia insurance commissioner already recognizes that these are not insurance companies and the bill simply codifies that.

Members approved the bill in a voice vote. It's slated to go next to Finance but committee chair Mike Azinger, R-Wood, said he'd talk to Finance about waiving that reference so it can go directly to the floor, as it did last year.

This bill passed out of the Senate last year as SB 292 in a 27-1 vote, but died in House Judiciary. Senators learned last year from the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries that more than 3, 000 West Virginians already participated at the time in sharing ministries.

House Judiciary took up the House version, HB 4809, and spent barely a minute on it. After a quick description, the delegates approved it in a unanimous voice vote. The bill's first stop was House Banking and Insurance, and with this second committee OK, it goes to the full House.

Email: dbeard @dominionpost.com