Friday, April 1, 2011

Samaritan Ministries ordered to stop offering unauthorized insurance in Washington state

This post has been updated. See below.

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler on Friday ordered a health-care sharing ministry to stop offering unauthorized insurance in Washington.

Illinois-based Samaritan Ministries International, a nonprofit corporation, maintains that its member “need-sharing” program is not insurance. Under Washington state law, however, the program is considered insurance.

Insurers doing business in Washington must register with the state, submit their policies and rates for review, and meet state financial solvency requirements. Samaritan Ministries hasn’t done any of those things.

Kreidler on Friday issued a cease-and-desist order telling Samaritan to stop engaging in the unauthorized business of insurance in Washington state, which includes organizing the transfer of money between members.

“Our insurance laws exist to protect consumers and make sure that insurers live up to their promises,” said Kreidler. “Members of groups like this don’t have those protections.”

Samaritan Ministries members agree to pay monthly shares of $135 to $320 to other members who have medical costs, plus a $170-a-year administrative fee. A separate program is available to cover auto-accident injuries.

Members submit medical claims, and the group directs members to send their money to members with medical bills. The group says it has a total of 15,500 members in all 50 states, with shares totaling about $3.5 million per month.

The cease and desist order includes Samaritan Ministries International, its Christian Health Care Newsletter and 20 individuals.
Samaritan Ministries has the right to demand a hearing. The order takes effect immediately.

Update (5/31/2011) The order has been rescinded. On May 11, 2011, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed Senate Bill 5122 into law, excluding health sharing ministries such as Samaritan from regulation under the Washington state insurance code.