Rep. Huffman Introduces Bill to Protect Consumers from Dangerous Health Care Sharing Ministry Practices

July 11, 2022

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus (CFC), introduced the Health Share Transparency Act, which would protect people from deceptive practices by Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs) by providing information directly to consumers before they enroll in coverage. The bill would also hold these same health shares accountable should they fail to make accurate and timely disclosures. Reps. Jamie Raskin (MD-08) and Ann M. Kuster (D-NH) joined Huffman as original cosponsors of the legislation.

HCSMs are a form of health coverage in which members – who are typically recruited because they share religious beliefs – contribute monthly payments to cover the qualified expenses of other members. Health shares do not have to comply with the consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act, provide limited benefits for their members, and do not guarantee payment for medical claims. HCSMs reportedly jeopardize health of 1.5 million people in America through deceptive marketing practices and systemic failure to provide necessary products and services.

“Health Care Sharing Ministries prey on citizens in search of care, using overt appeals to religion as a veil to avoid criticism and regulation. They mislead the public into falling victim to this dangerous scheme through marketing materials that closely emulate traditional insurance despite their persistent failure to provide even the most basic health care services. It is completely unconscionable that an entity would trick consumers into purchasing inadequate health coverage, leaving folks to hold the bag and risk bankruptcy when they need help the most,” said Rep. Huffman. “The threat posed by these unregulated, deceptive HCSMs demands federal action. And that starts with having accurate information at hand to ensure consumers make the best choices for themselves and their loved ones.” 

The Health Share Transparency Act will:

  • Empower consumers with the knowledge to distinguish between comprehensive, regulated health insurance products and Health Shares by requiring disclosures by Health Shares during the enrollment process.
  • Provide new data for regulators to assess the threat Health Shares pose to Public Health including rates of service denials, enrollment, service area, average out of pocket expenses for Health Share Members, and the contents of complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Ensure health insurance brokers selling Health Shares inform consumers if they are eligible for better, more comprehensive forms of health coverage including the ACA, Medicaid, or Medicare, and accurately describe the scope of benefits provided by Health Shares.

In October 2021, Representatives Huffman and Raskin led a letter on behalf of the Congressional Freethought Caucus to Samuel Levine, Acting Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, urging the agency to take necessary steps to protect consumers from the dangers presented by HCSMs.

“Far too many patients thought they’d be protected by these plans, only to later discover – at the moment they needed coverage most – they didn’t actually have health insurance,” said Dr. Gwen Nichols, chief medical officer of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “This legislation is a critical first step toward protecting consumers from these products. This legislation will help us better understand these plans, how they’re marketed, and how they impact patients.”

"Rep. Huffman is a true leader in the freethought community and for all consumers,” comments Dan Barker, Freedom from Religion Foundation co-president. “He’s looking out for all of us with this bill that will curb the most egregious practices of Healthcare Sharing Ministries. This bill is a tremendous step forward.”

The bill is endorsed by Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, AIDS Institute, Epilepsy Foundation, Freedom from Religion Foundation, American Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry, Secular Coalition for America, Interfaith Alliance, The Mended Hearts, Inc., Arthritis Foundation, Equality California, American Kidney Fund, National Eczema Association, National Patient Advocate Foundation, National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, American Atheists, National Health Law Program, Advocates for Youth, Hemophilia Federation of America, Chronic Disease Coalition, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, JDRF,  the National Organization for Rare Disorders, and the American Lung Association.

Text of the legislation can be found here, and an outline of the legislation can be found here.