The Health Care Sharing Ministries Freedom to Share Act was approved by the Senate and House committees on Monday. This legislation exempts these ministries, which are not health insurance, from state insurance laws.
The Senate’s version of the bill, SB 375, was handled by the Banking and Insurance committee. A Health Care Sharing Ministry is essentially a facilitator among members who agree to help each other with medical expenses through contributions. These ministries are limited to members who share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs.
Under this act, participants in a sharing ministry may contribute amounts with no promise to pay by the ministry or among the participants. It’s important to note that it is the responsibility of 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 that they are not health insurance. The insurance commissioner of West Virginia already recognizes that these ministries are not insurance companies and this bill simply codifies that fact.
Last year, the bill passed out of the Senate as SB 292 in a 27-1 vote but it died in the House Judiciary. This year, however, the House version HB 4809 was approved by the House Judiciary committee after barely a minute of discussion in an unanimous voice vote. As a result, it goes to the full House for further consideration.