The California state insurance commissioner has ordered two Healthcare Sharing Ministries (HCSMs) to stop selling a cost-sharing plan as a substitute for health insurance.
The New York Times reports California issued a cease and desist order against Aliera Healthcare, Inc. and Trinity Healthshares, Inc. because the two health care sharing ministries are allegedly misleading consumers by offering products identical to health insurance policies without state approval.
Up to 11,000 California residents may belong to plans offered by the two companies, according to the state.
"Consumers who bought these plans thinking they purchased comprehensive health insurance deserve the full protection of our laws," said Ricardo Lara, the California insurance commissioner, in a statement.
"Consumers should know they may be able to get comprehensive coverage through Covered California that will protect their health care rights," he continued, referring to the marketplace where Californians can purchase plans regulated under the Affordable Care Act.
Trinity is expected to contest the state's order. Aliera told The Times in a statement it would contest the order.
"With Californians facing skyrocketing health insurance premiums, it's deeply disappointing to see state regulators working to deny residents access to more affordable programs offered by qualified health share ministries," Aliera said.
"We will utilize all available opportunities to address the false claims being made about the support and management services we provide to Trinity HealthShare and other health care ministries we represent, and we're confident the health care sharing ministries will defend the right of their members to exercise their religious convictions in making health care choices," it added.
HCSMs allow their members to pool their healthcare premiums together, so medical costs are covered by all of the members. The lower costs have been attractive to many Christians because they don't cover certain procedures such as abortion, transgender surgery, and assisted suicide, which they may find morally objectionable, according to CatholicSay.com.
According to The Times, more than one million Americans have joined HCSMs, attracted by the prices which are far lower than most traditional insurance plans. However, these plans are not required to meet the same strict standards as health insurance companies. Because they are not defined as insurance, there's no guarantee that health care costs will be covered.
But in a January 2020 op-ed posted on CBNNews.com titled "Setting the Record Straight About Healthcare Sharing Ministries," Medi-Share CEO Scott Reddig defended the effectiveness of these groups in covering medical expenses for their participants, rejecting accusations by the NY Times. "During 2019, more than $50 million in medical bills were shared each month by the faithful members of Medi-Share," he wrote.
"For our 400,000+ members, they are loud and clear that this program provides them a great experience with real value alongside the intangible blessing of community," Reddig said.
It's not clear if every health sharing ministry has the same standards or high approval rating as Medi-Share.
California is not the only state focusing on the cost-sharing programs. Several states, including Texas, Colorado, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Washington have taken legal action against Aliera for allegedly deceptive marketing practices that have reportedly left consumers with unpaid bills, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation supporting independent research on health care issues.
The Connecticut Mirror reported more than 5,000 people have joined in a similar HCSM in Connecticut. While some are happy with the coverage, others have complained to state agencies that they were misled when purchasing the plans or surprised when medical bills weren't paid.