FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A judge will consider whether a Christians-only health care plan should be held in contempt of court more than a year after the Kentucky Supreme Court subjected it to stricter regulations that could have meant its demise in the state.
Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate set a hearing for Aug. 30 in the case that pits theKentucky Department of Insurance against Medi-Share, a Florida-based cost-sharing ministry that helps pay medical bills for churchgoers.
The legal battle involves how tightly the state can regulate Medi-Share, which serves nearly 40,000 people in 49 states, including more than 700 in Kentucky.
Justices found in 2010 that Medi-Share is insurance and should be subject to the same regulations as secular health care plans, a move that could have forced the organization to serve non-Christians and to provide costly coverage of pre-existing conditions. Medi-Share says its members aren't buying insurance, but taking part in a charitable endeavor to help cover medical bills of fellow Christians and potentially have their own costs covered should the need arise.
Department of Insurance spokeswoman Ronda Sloan said she expects the judge to consider the state's motion to hold Medi-Share in contempt for disobeying a permanent injunction barring it from doing business in Kentucky.
"Medi-Share agreed to the injunction on March 1, 2011, but continues to operate in the state," Sloan said Monday.
The judge may also hear a motion to reconsider the injunction because of changes Medi-Share has made over the past year that could bring it into compliance with state insurance regulations.
Tea party activist David Adams, who has filed complaints with the Department of Insurance about Medi-Share and similar ministries, said he believes Kentucky's Christian community is closely watching the case.
"The more they look at this issue the clearer it will become to Kentucky's two million active Christians that their rights to save money on one of their biggest bills is being unconstitutionally inhibited by their state government," Adams said.
Medi-Share continues to recruit new members in Kentucky by running ads on Christian radio stations, despite the injunction.
Tony Meggs, president of Medi-Share's parent organization, Christian Care Ministry, has said he's confident that the health plan, as it operates now, is in full compliance with state regulations.
Medi-Share members affirm a statement of Christian beliefs and pledge to follow a code that includes no tobacco or illegal drugs, no sex outside of marriage, and no abuse of alcohol or legal medications. Every month, members pay a fixed "share" to cover the medical expenses of members in need. The cost usually is less than private insurance.
The organization says it helps Christians pay medical bills based on a Bible verse that urges people to "carry each other's burdens."