A community-based healthcare program for Christians that receives money from its participants and distributes the funds to help others pay medical bills qualifies as an insurance program, ruled the Kentucky Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The divided court determined that Christian Care Ministry's Medi-Share program "fits comfortably within the statutory definition of an insurance contract" because it shifts the risk of payments for medical expenses from the individual to a pool of people paying into the program.
"Thus, regardless of how Medi-Share defines itself or what disclaimers it includes in its literature, in the final analysis, there is a shifting of risk," Justice Daniel J. Venters wrote for the court.
The court also found that Medi-Share doesn't qualify for the Religious Publication Exemption to Kentucky's insurance code because the funds paid into the program go to a pool and not directly from one person to another, a requirement to be excluded from regulations.
Medi-Share, which has been running for the past 17 years, is a health program for Christians "who want their healthcare dollars to help fellow believers who are living the same lifestyles they are, based on biblical principles and service to others," according to Christian Care Ministry's website.
Members are required to live a lifestyle that abstains from smoking, excessive drinking, and using illegal drugs. The plan also does not allow applicants who have pre-existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.
Each month, members contribute their part to a fund that is split up among the Medi-Share members when they are in need of medical care.
Christian Care Ministry publishes a disclaimer that says Medi-Share does not guarantee the payment of medical bills as members choose which medical bills will and won't be covered by the plan.
The not-for-profit corporation also states prominently that the program should not be considered a substitute for an insurance policy.
Currently, the program serves nearly 40,000 Christians in 49 states and generates $42 million a year.
Medi-Share officials are presently looking over Thursday's ruling and, at the time of report, did not have any immediate comments.
In 2007, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that the Medi-Share program isn't insurance and therefore doesn't violate the state's insurance laws. The Kentucky Court of Appeals agreed.
Seeking to reverse the two lower court decisions, the Kentucky attorney general's office appealed. The program has about 300 families in Kentucky.