California AG warns about ‘misleading claims’ by healthcare sharing ministry plans
Photo by Paul Kitagaki Jr.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a consumer alert warning state residents about “sham health insurance plans offered by some healthcare sharing ministries,” following complaints received by his office.
The alert asks consumers to immediately file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office if they believe they may have been victimized or were targeted by suspicious marketing by a healthcare sharing ministry.
The move follows a March 2020 cease-and-desist order by the California Department of Insurance against Aliera Healthcare, Inc., and its subsidiary Trinity HealthShare, to get the companies to stop doing business in the state after misleading consumers. In January 2020, a story in The Bee with the USC Center for Health Journalism Collaborative reported that Aliera was facing legal troubles in multiple states and was ordered to stop taking new clients, but in California, its subsidiary was continuing to take new customers.
Thousands of Californians who struggle to afford private health insurance have turned to faith-based, healthcare sharing ministries, but experts have warned that the product isn’t a replacement for insurance. Members make monthly payments into a system for healthcare costs to be shared among all members.
“Our office has received multiple complaints from devastated Californians who have been left in financial jeopardy with mounting medical bills after their healthcare sharing ministry plan failed to provide the reliable coverage they expected,” Bonta said in the alert issued Friday. “Before signing up for one of these plans, please do your research and consider applying instead for affordable, reliable coverage through Covered California.”
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said the office couldn’t comment further on the complaints when asked for the names of the sharing ministries involved in them, and when the claims were received by the office.
“To protect their integrity, our office is unable comment on potential or ongoing investigations, including the complaints that we receive,” the spokesperson told The Bee in an email.
According to the alert, “many HSMs (healthcare sharing ministries) may be operating in California illegally” if they don’t meet an exception under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Aliera Healthcare and Trinity HealthShare are currently operating as Sharity Ministries, the alert says.
CLASS ACTION SUIT AGAINST ALIERA, TRINITY
In April 2020, a class action lawsuit was filed in California against The Aliera Companies, Inc., Aliera Healthcare, Inc., and Trinity HealthShare Inc.
The suit accused Aliera of leaving one California couple with more than $70,000 in unpaid medical bills after tying a spinal cord surgery to a preexisting condition. Aliera dismissed the claims in the lawsuit.
Aliera previously also denied allegations outlined in government investigations in other states, and told The Bee it would “vigorously defend” its position.
Healthcare sharing ministries, the alert says, “use misinformation to mislead consumers into enrolling under the guise of offering an affordable alternative to health insurance from the Covered California marketplace.”
“However, unlike Covered California plans, healthcare sharing ministries are not obligated to cover preexisting conditions or guarantee coverage for medical costs or services” the alert reads.
Primary care, long-term care, contraceptives and abortion are among a list of medical needs not covered by the cost-sharing ministries. Medical necessities must also not result from conduct that’s not consistent with membership requirements for some sharing ministries.
Follow the USC Center for Health Journalism Collaborative series "Uncovered California" here.