In theory, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made it mandatory for all Americans to obtain health insurance, or pay a penalty for not doing so. But in practice, some groups have received exemptions from the law’s requirement, based on religious principles or other outside circumstances. Organizations like Medi-Share, a religious group established in 1993 by members of the not-for-profit Christian Care Ministry, which chip in to pay off members’ medical bills and debt, are exempt under the ACA’s built-in guidelines, health care lawyers in Florida report.
In a recent case, 8-week-old Ashlyn Whitney was in the intensive care unit while she received treatment for respiratory syncytial virus. Her parents faced hospital bills of almost $100,000, but the entire cost, which included nearly $4,000 for Ashlyn’s birth, and the pre- and post-natal care, was covered by Medi-Share. The Whitneys pay a set amount each year to be included in the organization, and receive additional medical care and funds, along with health coaching and life advice that matches their religious beliefs. As Medi-Share members, the Whitneys do not have to purchase traditional health insurance, even in the wake of the ACA regulations.
Medi-Share and similar organizations operate by helping members pay off their medical debt, so long as the bills were racked up in legitimate health-related expenses that do not compromise the group’s Christian values. According to Medi-Share’s website, the members “make the rules – and their dollars don’t support unbiblical choices such as abortion, or drug or alcohol abuse.” These stipulations allow Medi-Share members to remain exempt from the ACA’s insurance policies. Since the start of open enrollment under the ACA in October 2013, Medi-Share’s ranks have grown by nearly 30,000, and now number about 100,000 nationwide. According to the group’s public relations representative, 7,700 Medi-Share members are Florida residents.
Despite the requirements of the ACA, it is estimated that nearly 30 million Americans will still not have health insurance by the year 2016. But of those 30 million, 7 million or so are included in the Act’s list of exempted parties, according to research from the Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation. Along with religious bill-sharing groups like Medi-Share, the Act exempts members of federally acknowledged religious groups with moral objections to insurance or to Medicare, Social Security, and other health care providers.
The rest of the 20 exempted parties include those who are unable to procure health insurance because of circumstantial difficulties such as homelessness, eviction, bankruptcy, or foreclosure. Also exempted are victims of domestic violence and those who have recently suffered the loss of a loved one. Native American tribe members do not have to sign up for health insurance, nor do those who do not have enough income, or people who are currently serving prison sentences.
At Lubell Rosen, our Florida health care lawyers offer legal counsel and guidance to doctors and medical organizations who have found their practices changed by the new requirements under the ACA, especially if they are included in the exempted parties list. Contact a Lubell Rosen attorney today to discuss your legal options and rights. Our offices can be found in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and New York.