Sabrina Corlette reports in the commentary that she has heard of some health care providers running into patients in the ministry programs.
She notes that the programs are exempt from many of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requirements that normally apply to new individual and small-group major medical coverage, such as the requirement that policies cover childhood immunizations and other preventive services, or even a requirement that the programs submit to any kind of solvency oversight.
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She also notes anecdotal evidence that providers are seeing more patients with ministry coverage.
Religious groups and community groups have been organizing member-funded “friendly society” benefits programs since the 1600s. Members were supposed to pay cash into the programs in good times to get the right to draw cash out in hard times.
Insurance companies that build up formal reserves to pay claims now dominate the modern U.S. health insurance industry, but religious organizations began setting up health care sharing ministries as an alternative to for-profit insurance companies, or reserve-based nonprofit carriers, in the 1960s.
PPACA drafters helped draw attention to the ministries by giving consumers who join established health care sharing ministries from the PPACA provisions that require most individuals to own what PPACA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) classify as minimum essential coverage (MEC).
See also: Feds map PPACA coverage rule limits
HHS and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have not yet published any readily available statistics on the percentage of consumers who have applied or received MEC exemptions based on membership in a health care sharing ministry.
For a look at some of the ministry information that is available, read on.
1. The ministry programs may have a significant number of members.
The ministries’ advocacy group, the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, says that its two member plans have a total of about 286,000 members in about 93,000 households, and that the five ministries recognized as such for MEC exemption purposes by federal regulators have a total of about 430,000 members.
See also: Individual mandate exemption forms out
2. One ministry admits enrollees who agree to a nondenominational set of principles.
Traditionally, many health care sharing ministries set membership requirements that were a better fit for members of Protestant denominations than for Catholics, or for members of non-Christian faiths.
Some consumers who liked the idea of getting an alternative to PPACA-compliant major medical coverage could not honestly agree to the best known ministries’ membership requirements.