A health care nonprofit that offers an alternative to traditional health insurance has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and ceased operations, leaving its New Hampshire members without coverage.
Sharity Ministries Inc. — formerly known as Trinity Healthshare Inc. — operates as a health care sharing ministry. Members pay premiums and voluntarily agree to share their medical expenses in accordance with their Christian beliefs, according to the company’s previous website.
In October 2019, the New Hampshire Insurance Department ordered Sharity, along with the Aliera Companies, which had administered and marketed the health coverage, to stop issuing new plans or renewing coverage in the state after receiving dozens of complaints. At the time, about 1,400 New Hampshire residents had signed up for the plans.
Similar orders were issued in California, Connecticut, Colorado, Maryland, Missouri and Washington.
Such cost-sharing models are less expensive than traditional health insurance but can leave customers vulnerable. Many thought they were signing up for health insurance, only to find their claims were denied because of preexisting conditions or the claims were deemed inappropriate for a “Christian lifestyle,” according to the department.
Sharity filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 8, and later made the decision to cease operations.
“Unfortunately, Sharity will no longer be able to facilitate any sharing requests,” its website reads. “Members should know that no sharing requests will be honored and should plan accordingly with this unfortunate situation in mind.”
The company is seeking permission from the court to potentially refund contributions made for the month of July.
The state insurance department is monitoring the “rapidly unfolding developments,” said Insurance Commissioner Chris Nicolopoulas.
“It is very important for consumers to remember that if you were a member of Sharity, you likely do not have any health care coverage at this time,” he said in a statement.
The department doesn’t know how many residents are affected by Sharity’s move.
“If they were a traditional insurance company, we would know precisely how many members they have,” Deputy Commissioner D.J. Bettencourt said. “But because they operate outside of our rules and regulations we don’t.”
The insurance department encourages members to consider more traditional insurance coverage through the individual market, including the federal open enrollment through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Enrollment has been extended to Aug. 15 with enhanced financial support, according to the department.
Sharity also recommended the ACA plans as an option, but passed along information to Christian Healthcare Ministries and Samaritan Ministries. Both have agreed to consider applications from Sharity customers.
Sharity’s sharing ministry is derived from “a long-standing — much prior to 1999 — Anabaptist tradition and ministries,” according to court documents.
Joshua Hilliard, associate enforcement counsel for the insurance department, said successful models have worked for the Amish and Mennonites. The department does not know how many health care sharing ministries operate in the state.
“We certainly recommend any consumer interested in any sort of product like a health care sharing ministry does their homework and checks up on the company,” he said.
Bettencourt asked Sharity to pass its member information along so the state can reach out to those affected, but he said the organization denied the request.
Both Aliera and Sharity last year sued the Insurance Department, claiming the state exceeded its jurisdiction and violated the New Hampshire Constitution “through state-sponsored discrimination” against its religious freedom when it ordered the companies to stop issuing new policies or renew existing policies last year.
The state filed a motion to dismiss through the Attorney General, stating health care sharing ministries needed to be formed before Dec. 31, 1999, under the ACA. The state claims “Trinity was created in Delaware on June 27, 2018 by Aliera and its principals,” according to the motion. A judge denied the motion.
The lawsuit is pending in Merrimack County Superior Court.
Other regulatory actions from the state, such as fines, also remain pending. A judge ordered a halt to any administrative hearings until the lawsuit is settled.
Aliera, through a company spokesman, says it disagrees with Sharity’s bankruptcy assertions. Aliera affiliates, as service providers, are not responsible for Sharity members, the company said.
“All share requests are required to be reviewed, approved and funded exclusively by Sharity,” the company wrote. “Aliera and its affiliates regret that Sharity made the decision to file for protection under bankruptcy laws and hope that Sharity’s members will not be negatively impacted by the result.”
How to find help
Sharity members who have a pending sharing request affectedby the bankruptcy or paid a premium for July or August are urged to reach out to the insurance department.
Residents can contact the department with any questions or concerns regarding their insurance coverage at 800-852-3416 or 603-271-1406, or by email at email@example.com
More information about the Special Enrollment Period can be found at healthcare.gov/coverage-outside-open-enrollment/special-enrollment-period.