By Reed Abelson
The New York Times, October 20, 2020
New York State accused a major Christian group on Tuesday of deceiving customers by illegally offering health insurance to as many as 40,000 residents since 2016.
The state filed civil charges against Trinity Healthshare, the Christian group, and Aliera, a for-profit company that markets the plans.
The state insurance regulators’ complaint included a list of charges, which said Trinity and Aliera “aggressively marketed and sold their products to consumers in the health insurance marketplace, preying on people who were uninsured and deceiving consumers into paying hundreds of dollars per month for what they were led to believe was comprehensive health coverage.”
New York regulators said patients were often left with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. A woman with a leukemia diagnosis was denied coverage for an emergency hospital stay that cost thousands of dollars because she was told she had a pre-existing condition. Aliera denied a $15,000 claim for breast cancer treatment, according to regulators, while another patient said even routine doctor’s visits were not covered by Trinity.
Obamacare plans still remain too costly for some people, who look for cheaper options with much lower premiums even if they do not provide robust coverage. The Trump administration has twinned its animus toward the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law, with promotions for alternatives like short-term plans and health care sharing ministries.
The Christian groups can offer low rates because they are not classified as insurance, and are under no legal obligation to pay medical claims. Some people have paid hundreds of dollars a month, and then have been left with hundreds of thousands in unpaid medical bills in several states where the ministries, which are not subject to regulation as insurers, failed to follow through on pooling members’ expenses.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
Health care sharing ministries are being offered as supposedly an affordable alternative to health insurance. Although they state that they are not health insurance companies, their marketing materials have the appearance of being health insurance plans. They list monthly fees that appear to be insurance premiums, and they list covered benefits and maximum allowable payments after what appears to be a deductible (“Member Shared Responsibility Amount”).
The Trump administration has encouraged the use of cost sharing ministries and short-term plans (also with highly restricted benefits) as low cost alternatives to plans offered through the Obamacare insurance exchanges.
Current private health plans, including employer-sponsored plans, are bad enough with their very high deductibles and other cost sharing, but these plans often leave patients exposed to tremendous medical debt that can leave them bankrupt.
“Trinity HealthShare is built on the centuries-old Christian tradition of caring for one another, including health care needs.” Their mission: “Through God’s guidance, bring together people of a common set of religious beliefs in order to share in one another’s medical expense burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Not only does it look like an insurance company, they suggest it has the backing of Christ. Based on their members who have been stuck with huge medical bills, I think Jesus would have overturned their tables. “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” – Matthew 21:13
(The reference is to the historical Jesus and not meant to be an advocacy of any religious faith.)
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