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Kentucky blocks Christian health bill sharing group

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Members of a Christians-only health insurance plan that has been ordered to cease operations in Kentucky should get different policies immediately, the state Department of Insurance advised Friday.

The move follows Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate’s ruling earlier this month that Medi-Share, a Florida-based cost-sharing ministry, can’t operate in Kentucky because it doesn’t meet the state’s insurance code.

The Department of Insurance has provided a list of insurers that could provide individual coverage to Medi-Share members.

“Some of the calls we’ve gotten were ‘what do we need to do now,’ and we’re just trying to be helpful,” said Department of Insurance spokeswoman Ronda Sloan.

Medi-Share closely resembles secular insurance, but only allows participation by people who pledge to live Christian lives that include no smoking, drinking, using drugs or engaging in sex outside of marriage.

In a decade-long legal battle, Kentucky officials have been in the unenviable position of pushing to regulate a Christian cost-sharing ministry in a Bible-belt state. The Department of Insurance took the case to court because of concerns that some Christians might mistakenly believe they’re paying into an insurance plan that guarantees coverage if they’re hospitalized. Medi-Share offers no such guarantee.

Medi-Share contends that its participants aren’t buying insurance, but are involved in a charitable endeavor to help cover medical bills of fellow Christians and potentially have their own expenses covered should the need arise.

Wingate ordered Medi-Share “to cease all operations in Kentucky unless and until it receives a certificate of authority or other applicable license from the Department of Insurance.”

The legal battle between Medi-Share and Kentucky has revolved around how tightly the state can regulate the Christian health care ministry that serves nearly 40,000 people in 49 states, including 800 in Kentucky. Medi-Share President Tony Meggs testified in August that the group has helped arrange for Christians across the country to pay some $25 million in medical bills for Kentucky participants over the past 10 years.

Meggs said the ministry had revamped its plan in an effort to alleviate Kentucky’s regulatory concerns by no longer collecting contributions from participants into a central account. Instead, Meggs said, participants make contributions into their own accounts at American Christian Credit Union. When Christians need money to pay medical bills, he said, money is transferred directly between member accounts.

That wasn’t enough, the judge found, to absolve Medi-Share from being subject to Kentucky’s insurance regulations.

Medi-Share has since posted a note on its website saying it’s no longer accepting new applicants in Kentucky.

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