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Christian medical plans get pass from health law

She worries what would have happened to her if she had to rely on government-regulated coverage. "I know with my medical conditions, if I lived in Canada or Europe, I'd be dead," she said.

David Dacy of Austin, Texas, said Medi-Share paid tens of thousands of dollars for his wife's cancer treatment and for surgery to correct their daughter's deviated septum. He was skeptical when he first heard about Medi-Share, but signed up partly out of frustration with private insurance.

Through the years, Dacy said his family had difficulty with the plan just once, over his daughter's care. But Medi-Share paid. "It wasn't really a battle, but more effort than I thought was necessary," said Dacy, 55, an actor and private investor.

Others have had problems. Nevada pastor Michael Rowden sued Medi-Share over its refusal to pay for treatment of a heart condition. He eventually reached a settlement. "I was actually embarrassed to be associated with them," he said.

Before Karen Niles became incapacitated, she was a homemaker and a church volunteer in Blackwell, Okla. Medi-Share initially paid for treatment of her brain tumor, but in 2008 told the couple it could no longer continue to do so. The reason given was that Oklahoma state regulators had ruled Medi-Share was an insurance company operating outside the law, and ordered it to stop operations.

"None of us wanted anything to happen to Karen Niles," said Medi-Share president Baldwin, adding, "if a state tells us we can't operate in a particular state, we can't operate." Medi-Share had already paid more than $450,000 for Niles' care.

The Nileses sued, alleging the real problem was that Medi-Share did not have the money to pay for Karen's treatment. Medi-Share denies the charge.

The Oklahoma insurance department said Medi-Share could still pay claims, notwithstanding its order. "There is nothing currently prohibiting Medi-Share from paying medical expenses at this time, other than their business decision not to pay them," the department said in a 2009 statement.

The Nileses and Medi-Share agreed to binding arbitration to settle the suit. Arbitrators ruled last year in favor of Medi-Share, in a 2-1 decision.

"We may agree to disagree on the moral question, but the legal question was decided in our favor," Baldwin said. Karen Niles was able to get emergency surgery by joining Oklahoma's high risk health insurance pool, coverage of last resort for the medically uninsurable. The premiums, however, were about three times higher than what the couple paid Medi-Share.

Karen has since turned 65 and joined Medicare, and is under hospice care.

"I'm not saying this wouldn't have happened if she had that surgery," said husband Robert. "I couldn't prove that. But I think by waiting so long, it really did some damage."




Government health insurance site:

Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries:

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© 2011 The Associated Press