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On Monday, the House and Senate committees passed bills creating the Health Care Sharing Ministries Freedom to Share Act. These bills exempt health care sharing ministries, which are not insurance, from state insurance laws.

The Senate version of the bill is SB 375, which was handled by the Banking and Insurance committee. A Health Care Sharing Ministry is a group of members who share common ethical or religious beliefs and agree to help each other with medical expenses through contributions. The ministry is not an insurance company; participants may contribute amounts with no promise to pay by the ministry or among the participants. It’s up to the members to pay their own bills.

Public higher education institutions that require health insurance must recognize a student’s membership in a sharing ministry in lieu of insurance. According to Senate committee counsel, 31 states already have health care sharing ministries in code and recognize that they are not health insurance. The West Virginia insurance commissioner also recognizes these ministries as not insurance companies, and this bill simply codifies that.

Last year, SB 292 passed out of the Senate with a 27-1 vote but died in the House Judiciary committee. The House version of the bill, HB 4809, was approved by the House Judiciary committee in a unanimous voice vote after only a minute of discussion. This second committee approved it, so it now goes to the full House for further consideration and debate before it can become law.

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