By Ryan Morgan and Aaron Endy
SALT LAKE CITY– A tense debate unfolded in committee as several lawmakers and private interests examined a bill which would release health care sharing ministries from regulation by the Utah Insurance Department.
HB113, is a set of amendments for health care sharing ministries would exempt the faith-based organizations from the oversight and control of the Utah Insurance Department. The concept of the bill is to clarify the difference between a cost-sharing system employed by organizations of faith and actual insurance. The bill was heard on Tuesday, Feb. 23.
“This bill is simple in two things that it requests, one is exemption from the insurance commissioner’s oversight, the second thing it does is outline disclosures that are required as people embark upon this relationship with healthcare ministries,” Rep. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine, said.
Much of the debate on the floor involved disclosures and the ability to regulate. The disagreement on disclosures seemed to stem from the length of the applications when including such disclosures and the specific wording that would be required.
Mike Charmin, a representative of a ministry, described the bill in detail, outlining how this is NOT insurance, it is simply sharing the costs or burdens. The disclaimer would note that this is different. The disclosure sits above the signature, so that the individual would have a hard time not noticing it before signing into the open sharing plan. According to Charmin, the disclaimers meet the qualifications of the Affordable Care Act.
Luke Miller, a practicing Mennonite who supported the bill spoke next. “We just want the freedom to practice our beliefs and our rights in peace. It works, it has worked in the past.”
Some opponents for the bill felt that regulation should remain in the state’s care.
First up to the plate was Dr. Howard Russell, who was the president and CEO of Christian Health Ministries, a large ministry that through ministry based sharing serves around 3,000 members in the state of Utah, they are opposed to the bill because they believe the bill is not necessary, and that it doesn’t add to the protections of Utah.
There were some who felt that the bill was not finely crafted enough. The bill would put higher requirements on sharing ministries and that the new disclosures would cause more confusion than clarification.
Commissioner Todd Kiser of the Utah Insurance Department, was opposed to the bill as it would take regulatory powers away, and that there would be no governing body to ensure consumer protection. “We have that ability [to take administrative action] at a much lower level to issue fines and regulate if an insurance agent or a company breaks the law.” He felt that there needed to be some kind of administration. “What good is a disclaimer if it can’t be regulated?”
The bill held the floor for over an hour as lawmakers and lobbyists went back and forth with reasons both for, and against the bill.
Connor Boyack of the Libertas Institute was one of the last speakers to join the debate. While providing a mixed review of the bill, Boyack largely supported the bill, and only advised a few changes in language to strengthen protections for litigations in the instance of fraud.
Boyack said, “These are groups of people who share the burden of their healthcare costs voluntarily. . . because it’s not insurance the insurance department doesn’t have oversight.” Boyack clarified his reasoning behind supporting the bill. “We support the buyer beware model. People should be able to make this decision on their own.”
The discussion of the bill was tabled until next week, but the implications of the bill were able to bring out strong voices on both sides of the issue.