On Monday, the Senate and House committees approved bills creating the Health Care Sharing Ministries Freedom to Share Act. The legislation 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.
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.
The committee counsel informed senators that 31 states already have health care sharing ministries in code and recognize that they are not health insurance. West Virginia’s insurance commissioner already recognizes these ministries as not health insurance companies, and this bill simply codifies that recognition. Last year, SB 292 passed out of the Senate as an amendment but died in the House Judiciary Committee when it was replaced by HB 4809, which was approved unanimously by the House Judiciary after just one minute of discussion and will now go to the full House for consideration.