As we’ve noted so many times on this site before, there are Christian “health insurance” companies that only the most devout believers can buy into, and just like Christian films and theme parks, they’re so much worse than the original.
Now the state of New York has filed civil charges against the biggest network claiming they’re deceiving their customers.
Some background is useful here to understand how these companies work. Groups like Samaritan Ministries and Liberty HealthShare ask everyone in the system to pay a specific amount into the insurance pool every month… but the companies don’t collect all the cash or send it to health care providers. For a fee, the company simply tells individuals where to send their money (e.g. Bob from Nebraska) and how much to send. If you need something covered yourself, you make a request and the company will send your name to others in the pool.
That’s not really different from regular insurance, but it’s not regulated. Not all services are covered. And the providers can cut you off at anytime if you become too expensive to insure. Even worse: If you do something they deem “immoral,” you won’t get any money at all. (Good luck getting that contraception. And you sure as hell can’t cover your same-sex partner.)
So everything is great… until the moment you need them the most.
Earlier this year, the New York Times‘ Reed Abelson wrote about how some of those Christian groups were so awful that some states were taking legal action to prevent them from offering garbage plans to residents.
… state regulators in New Hampshire, Colorado and Texas are beginning to question some of the ministries’ aggressive marketing tactics, often using call centers, and said in some cases people who joined them were misled or did not understand how little coverage they would receive if they or a family member had a catastrophic illness.
The article noted that Washington fined Trinity Healthshare and banned it in the state. Even Texas sued Aliera Healthcare, which promoted Trinity’s products.
But last night’s news may be the biggest so far: The state of New York says Trinity Healthshare and Aliera (which markets the plans) broke the law by offering pseudo-insurance to 40,000 residents over the past four years.
New York regulators said patients were often left with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. A woman with leukemia was denied coverage for an emergency hospital stay that cost thousands of dollars because she was told she had a pre-existing condition. Aliera denied a $15,000 claim for breast cancer treatment, according to regulators, while another patient said even routine doctor’s visits were not covered by Trinity.
The state said it would seek civil penalties and other relief on behalf of consumers, and had issued a cease-and-desist letter in April that prevented the group from enrolling new customers.
The companies’ defense is laughable: They say they’re not providing health insurance at all… therefore it can’t be fraud! They also insist that, since customers have to sign a contract that says it’s not health insurance, everything is on the up and up.
But obviously the customers don’t really understand that. They think they’re getting health insurance from a company that proudly proclaims conservative Christian values. There’s a reason they think that: The companies strongly imply they’re health insurance companies. Just look at what the complaint itself says:
Respondents aggressively advertise in the national and New York insurance marketplaces that these products are “affordable alternatives for health care” that provide comprehensive coverage, targeting consumers who are uninsured. Every aspect of Respondents’ marketing, notwithstanding their false disclaimers, leads consumers to believe that they have purchased legitimate, comprehensive health insurance coverage.
Members are issued membership cards, and Trinity maintains a network of providers and provides a search function on its website for participating providers for consumers to search.
It’s a bait-and-switch, just like so many of their churches. They lure you in before they they tell you the whole truth.
This isn’t insurance. This is gambling. Christians put money into the system with no guarantee that anything will come out on the other side.
Whether this complaint will lead to serious penalties, I don’t know, but it absolutely should. There’s no reason — even ethically speaking — that a faith-based company should be allowed to function like Trump University.
As I’ve said before, there are plenty of problems with the insurance industry, in large part due to sabotage by Republicans who have undermined the protections that were written into the Affordable Care Act. But Christian insurance companies manage to magnify those problems with a religious twist.
It’s too bad that the consumers are the ones getting screwed over. Those are the same members, I would gather, who were duped into believing the ACA (as intended) was bad for them and contained “death panels,” and the same people who continue to push back against the idea of a public option or “socialized medicine.” Their ignorance is hurting them and they don’t even realize it.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)