The FFRF Action Fund commends Arizona state Sen. Juan Mendez for introducing a significant bill to rein in health care sharing ministries and safeguard consumers against potentially harmful practices.
Senate Bill 1553 would require that health care sharing ministries must be accountable to the state and consumers regarding basic information. It would impose civil penalties for failure to submit such information, including fines, cease and desist orders and other remedies.
Health care sharing ministries, which have grown tremendously since being allowed under a loophole in the Affordable Care Act, often operate with limited transparency and oversight, leaving consumers vulnerable to unexpected limitations and discriminatory practices. The bill seeks to remedy these problems by establishing essential standards to protect individuals.
Health care sharing ministries typically exclude any coverage related to so-called “personal moral” issues, such as for abortion, contraception, mental health, substance use disorders, weight control, chronic conditions, some pre-existing conditions and even maternity care. For example, some ministries refuse to cover illnesses “arising from tobacco use,” STDs or “diseases caused by tattoos, body piercing or lifestyle choices.”
FFRF Action Fund is pursuing safeguards against health care sharing ministries as one of its signature campaigns at both the state and national levels. U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, who reintroduced the Health Share Transparency Act in November, explained when introducing the bill: “Health care sharing ministries prey on citizens in search of care, using overt appeals to religion as a veil to avoid criticism and regulation. It is completely unconscionable that an entity would trick consumers into purchasing inadequate health coverage, leaving folks to hold the bag and risk bankruptcy when they need help the most.”
Typically, these entities only cover half of their members’ health expenses eligible for reimbursement. Almost 1.7 million Americans, including many citizens in Arizona, have enrolled in them, putting them at jeopardy of being denied necessary treatments and services.
“We’re grateful to Sen. Mendez’s leadership for introducing this legislation,” says FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This legislation is a vital step to ensure that Arizonans can access health care services without fear of fraud or religious impositions.”
Mendez received the “Emperor Has No Clothes” Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2013 for courageously giving a nonreligious invocation before the Arizona Legislature when he was a state representative.
The FFRF Action Fund is the legislative arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has over 40,000 members and several chapters nationwide, including more than 1,000 members and a chapter in Arizona, and works to keep religion out of government and to educate about nontheism.