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Religious health care sharing group challenges Colorado insurance data sharing requirement

Colorado's 2022 Health Care Sharing Plan Reporting Requirements Act requires cost sharing ministries to disclose members and financial statistics.

DENVER (CN) — A health care sharing ministry sued the Colorado Division of Insurance in federal court on Friday, arguing that new reporting requirements violate the religious institution’s ability to exist free from unwarranted state entanglement.

“Colorado’s regime runs afoul of the First Amendment and sets Colorado apart as an outlier in the nation in its approach to these decades-old organizations,” writes plaintiff Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries in the 30-page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District of Colorado.

Health care sharing plans often work like a shared bank account, with members voluntarily contributing funds and payments being disbursed as needed to cover health care expenses. Under federal law, they must be registered as nonprofit organizations but are not considered formal health insurance.

Under the 2022 Health Care Sharing Plan Reporting Requirements Act, Colorado now requires health care sharing ministries to report members as well as statistics and financial information to the state. The division published its final regulations on April 30.

The practice is common among Mennonites, Amish and Anabaptists as well as other Christian groups, as an interpretation of the Biblical imperative to “bear ye one another’s burdens.”

While the alliance is based in Melbourne, Florida, it counts among its members the Colorado-based Samaritan Ministries.

According to the alliance in its complaint, members are not outright guaranteed coverage of any medical expenses. Instead, the ministry "receives information about medical needs and then asks fellow members to send funds, notes, and prayers [to] those members in need, as long as those medical needs are consistent with Samaritan’s ethical norms.”

Samaritan members identify as Christian and promise to live by “biblical principles as certified by a local church leader.”

The alliance argues that the new requirements violate their First Amendment rights to free speech and that organizations like Samaritan Ministries should be governed in Colorado like any other church.

The alliance also claims Colorado has discriminated against health care sharing ministries before, citing a 2020 press release from the state warning consumers about the financial risks of relying on the model.

"These requirements are akin to subjecting a church to comprehensive inquiry and monitoring as to who its congregants are, how it evangelizes, and how it distributes from its collection basket for religious programs for its own members,” the alliance argues in the complaint.

The group further argues that the state regulation is unclear as to whether the cost sharing ministries are required to report services that are denied because they violate ministry guidelines and whether costs reported should be the sticker price invoiced, or the amount actually paid. The difference in this data, the alliance argues, can lead to misleading conclusions about the business model.

Violators of the reporting requirements face fines of up to $5,000 per day.

“No religious charity should have to choose between serving the state or serving the Kingdom of God. Our constitutional framework was set up to prevent this impossible position for religious Americans and their organizations,” said Katy Talento, executive director of the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries via email.

The alliance is represented by attorney Michael Murray, who practices with the D.C. firm Paul Hastings.

Claiming the new law violates ministry members’ rights to free exercise and religious autonomy, the alliance asks the court to issue a permanent injunction blocking the law. The case currently sits on the desk of Magistrate Judge Scott Varholak.

Safe harbor laws in 33 other states outright prevent health care sharing ministries from being regulated under the insurance code. Challenges are pending to other state restrictions.

On Wednesday, the 10th Circuit heard an appeal from Gospel Light Mennonite Church Medical Aid Plan challenging the ability of the New Mexico Office of the Superintendent of Insurance to regulate health care sharing ministries like traditional insurance companies.

A representative from the Colorado Division of Insurance declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Religion

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