Montana’s new insurance commissioner Matt Rosendale appears to have uncovered yet another foul health care repeal concept he can get behind: legalizing religious insurance pyramid schemes.
Yesterday he held a media event to end the ban on one such scheme. A group called “Medi-Share” that former state insurance commissioner John Morrison had shut down as fraud in 2007, after it tried to deny a man coverage for the heart surgery he needed claiming he wasn’t abiding by the companies “Christian lifestyle” codes. But now Rosendale has resurrected such schemes as an alternative to allowing Montanans to buy insurance through the exchange or to expanding Medicaid to the working poor. The legal documents in the fraud case disappeared from Rosendale’s website, but the internet has a way of making some things hard to delete entirely, and you can see them here.
Here’s how this works: To join the pyramid you must must pledge your devout Christian faith (and even get a reference from a minister). You must not drink, take drugs or have sex outside of a “traditional” marriage. Pre-existing conditions make you ineligible to participate at all, although one does get the benefit of a “prayer chain.”
The coverage doesn’t include products of “un-Biblical lifestyles,” such as contraception or substance use rehabilitation–or preventive care like PAP tests, colonoscopies and mammograms.
Usually, bill-sharing plan members contribute a predetermined amount each month. When they have a medical bill, they receive monetary help from fellow members. All of the programs are careful to bury in the fine print that they not promising to pay bills, only “facilitating a voluntary sharing.” Some of these schemes even publish your medical problems in a newsletter to “share” your bill with the community in case anyone wants to chip in–so much for medical privacy.
The MT case in which insurance commissioner John Morrison shut down the scam was initiated after a Montana pastor submitted his bills for treatment of a heart condition and a company called Medi-Share refused to pay for them. The pastor had signed a contract with a scheme called Medi-Share for coverage of his medical expenses, but the company continued to maintain that they had no duty to pay claims.
This week’s health sharing ministry announcement shed some light on what Rosendale would do if granted the sweeping powers that would be conferred upon him if a bill by Rep. Rob Cook, HB 652, were passed. Rosendales office pitched the bill as a plan to propose a reinsurance pool or high risk pool to magically lower insurance rates, but the devil is in the details, and what frightening details they are. (Forget that a high risk pool is a way to insure people who have been denied because of pre-existing conditions, and that federal law precedes denying people for pre-existing conditions, since apparently Rosendale has, if he ever knew.)
Here are some of things HB652 would give Rosendale the power to do by allowing him to propose to waive certain ACA provisions in MT, pending Trump’s appointees’ approval:
- Stop requiring employers to provide health coverage
- Gut standards for what benefits a basic health insurance policy had to cover -like eliminate coverage for pregnancy or mammograms, or mental health care. (The MTGOP’s actions today to kill Montana’s Mental Health Parity Bill appear to be a clear indication of what Rosendale wants.)
- He could make fewer people eligible for tax credits, thereby restricting eligibility to far lower levels, or increase premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
- He could even collect all of the federal money – the subsidies for premiums, the subsidies for co-pays, and the tax credits for small businesses – that Montanans are currently helped by in total, and put the money into financing coverage “his own way.” Given how proud he is to welcome a scheme that had previously been shut down as fraud – such thoughts are frightening.
It’s seemed like since he started that perhaps Rosendale’s antenna just doesn’t pick up all the channels. Earlier this year, he was caught actually calling for Medicaid block grants, (read a 30-40% cut in Montana’s Medicaid funding). Perhaps no one told him he doesn’t oversee Medicaid.
As soon as the details on how badly Trumpcare would harm Montana and rural states came out, even Steve Daines was eager to distance himself from the proposal, but Rosendale, ever a lap behind the field, doesn’t think Trumpcare can come fast enough. His staff told the Associated Press that they didn’t have the ability to figure out what the impact of the now failed proposal would be to MT.
With HB 652, Rosendale is rushing to gut Montana coverage before a new version of Trumpcare is even drafted. Perhaps he should focus on making sure he understands the impact of what he is proposing first.