FRANKFORT, Ky. — A Christians-only health care ministry will likely learn in the next two weeks whether it will be held in contempt of court for continuing to pay medical bills for Kentuckians.
Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate said he expects to rule within 10 to 15 days on the contempt motion filed by the Kentucky Department of Insurance against Medi-Share, a Florida-based cost-sharing ministry that helps pay medical bills for churchgoers who pledge to live Christian lives that include no smoking, drinking, using drugs or engaging in sex outside of marriage.
Medi-Share President Tony Meggs testified Thursday 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.
Medi-Share has continued to operate in Kentucky a year after the state Supreme Court ruled that it is subject to the same regulations as secular health care plans. The decision could force the organization to serve non-Christians and provide costly coverage of pre-existing conditions. The Supreme Court ruling came nearly a decade after the legal battle between the Department of Insurance and Medi-Share began.
Wingate said Thursday he was surprised to find the matter back in his hands. He had issued the injunction months ago to prevent Medi-Share from operating in Kentucky.
“I thought this thing was over with,” he said.
The legal battle between Medi-Share and Kentucky revolves around how tightly the state can regulate a Christian health care ministry that serves nearly 40,000 people in 49 states, including 800 in Kentucky.
Medi-Share, operated by Christian Care Ministry of Melbourne, Fla., insists 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.
“The idea behind it is that this is here for people who have catastrophic medical expenses they can’t budget for and they aren’t expecting,” said Ben Crittenden, an attorney representing Medi-Share.
Meggs told Wingate the ministry has revamped its plan in an effort to alleviate the 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, bypassing a central fund pool that was in existence at the time of the Supreme Court ruling.
Participants, Meggs said, must give Medi-Share limited power of attorney to write checks from their accounts.
Instead of a contempt order, Crittenden asked Wingate to order the Department of Insurance to conduct an administrative hearing so that Medi-Share can explain changes it has made that exempts it from state regulations.
The Department of Insurance doesn’t think the changes exempt Medi-Share from regulatory oversight.
“Medi-Share has as much or more control over its members’ accounts and how the money is spent than they did back in 2006,” said Steve Taylor, an attorney for the Department of Insurance.