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