Health sharing ministry banned from operating in Washington

Samaritan Ministries, a Christian ministry-based health plan, has been ordered to stop operating in Washington because the prominent healthcare sharing ministry is allegedly doing business illegally in the state.

Samaritan Ministries International is a religious co-op with members who pay annual fees and a monthly share to cover each other's medical bills, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Members pay monthly shares of $135 to $320, plus a $170 monthly fee, to cover claims submitted by other members, reports the Spokesman-Review. The group reviews claims and then uses a database that randomly matches shares to needs, so that the sharing is coordinated and shares go to the appropriate members with needs, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports.

Samaritan maintains it's not running an insurance business, but a "need-sharing" program for its members. However, Washington state insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler has concluded that the nonprofit is an insurer under state law and, therefore, must register with the state, meet financial standards, and submit its policies and rates for review, notes the PSBJ. "Samaritan Ministeries hasn't done any of those things," the insurance agency said.

The ministry is part of a growing trend of people relying on faith-based co-ops for financial help as an alternative to traditional health insurance. Samaritan claims 15,500 members nationally and $3.5 million in shares per month. Samaritian has a total of 46,000 members, including those abroad, who also pool in their money, adds the Post-Intelligencer.

Kreidler's cease-and-desist order directs Samaritan to stop organizing the transfer of money between members. Samaritan has the right to demand a hearing.

To learn more:
- read the Seattle Post Intelligencer story
- see the Puget Sound Business Journal article
- check out the Spokesman-Review piece

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