Medical Bill Sharing Draws Scrutiny
The Christian Care Ministry is a "medical bill sharing ministry" that "looks like a business and, in many ways, acts like one" but "is beyond the reach of most of the rules and government oversight that apply to businesses because it is a church mission," the New York Times reports.
According to E. John Reinhold, CCM's chair, the ministry works by adding "up all the medical bills and divid[ing] by the number of sharing households. Everybody kicks in and you pay the bills."
However, CCM and other medical bill sharing ministries have been sued for providing what state regulators say is unregulated health insurance. Regulators are concerned that "confused consumers looking for low-cost coverage will rely on these groups as if they were insurance companies, even though the groups may lack the resources to pay claims," according to the Times.
At least six states passed laws in the early 1990s exempting religious bill sharing ministries from state insurance laws. In addition, religious organizations are exempt from certain IRS regulations, such as filing public financial statements, and are protected by the First Amendment.
Although not an actual church, CCM's umbrella ministry, the American Evangelistic Association, meets the criteria. The ministry, which has roughly 19,000 members nationwide, has paid insurers more than $240 million since 1993 and roughly $57 million in its latest fiscal year.
Reinhold maintains that medical bill sharing groups "fulfill the admonition of Galatians 6:2, which tells them to 'carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ'" (Henriques, New York Times, 10/20).