A pro-family advocacy group called Wednesday for U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway to halt a legal battle against a Christian-only health care plan that provides coverage to churchgoers.
Martin Cothran, a policy analyst for the Kentucky Family Foundation, said Conway, as Kentucky’s attorney general, should abandon a legal challenge against the Medi-Share program that has dragged through state courts for years and now appears to be spilling over into the U.S. Senate race.
Conway is running against Republican Rand Paul in one of the closest watched Senate races in the nation for a seat now held by 78-year-old Jim Bunning, who is retiring at the end of the year. Conway and Paul have pummeled one another on a variety of issues, and Medi-Share appears to be the latest.
“Leave it to Jack Conway to oppose any potential solutions to our health care challenges that don’t involve bigger government or an expensive new spending program,” Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton said. “Of course, it is always easier for a trial lawyer like Jack to file a lawsuit that it is to solve a problem.”
At issue is how tightly the state can regulate the Florida-based Medi-Share program that serves nearly 40,000 churchgoers in 49 states. The program, which generates about $42 million a year, excludes non-Christians because, organizers say, their lifestyles can result in unnecessary medical care. Participants can’t smoke, use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol. They’re also not allowed to enroll if they have pre-existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
Conway’s office won a ruling from the Kentucky Supreme Court in August that held Medi-Share provides a “contract for insurance” and therefore should be subject to all state insurance regulations, which could force the insurance program to serve non-Christians and to provide costly coverage of pre-existing conditions.
Lawyers for Medi-Share are now asking justices to reconsider the ruling.
“The Attorney General is sworn to protect the consumers of Kentucky,” said Conway spokeswoman Allison Martin. “Medi-Share is offering insurance to consumers, and thus it should be regulated by the Kentucky Department of Insurance to protect purchasers and to make sure they get what they pay for. Those are the facts and the Kentucky Supreme Court agreed.”
Cothran fears that losing the legal battle could force Medi-Share out of Kentucky.
“Not only is this ministry a great alternative to the increasingly costly health care plans, but this group is only exercising its right as a Christian group to share one another’s burdens,” Cothran said in a statement. “We just don’t see why the state should be in the business of interfering with people’s exercise of their religion.”
A divided Supreme court reversed two lower court decisions when it ruled Medi-Share “fits comfortably within the statutory definition of an insurance contract” because it shifts the risk of payments for medical expenses from the individual to a pool of people paying into the program.
The lower court decisions had held Medi-Share was a medical cost-sharing program, not insurance. Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled in 2007 that the Medi-Share program isn’t insurance and therefore doesn’t violate the state’s insurance laws. The Kentucky Court of Appeals agreed.
Cothran, a longtime Medi-Share participant, said Conway should call off his lawyers and allow Medi-Share to continue operations as a Christian program in Kentucky.