N.Y. Accuses Religious Health Cost-Sharing Group of Misleading Consumers

New York State accused a major Christian group on Tuesday of deceiving customers by illegally offering health insurance to as many as 40,000 residents since 2016.

The state filed civil charges against Trinity Healthshare, the Christian group, and Aliera, a for-profit company that markets the plans.

The state insurance regulators’ complaint included a list of charges, which said Trinity and Aliera “aggressively marketed and sold their products to consumers in the health insurance marketplace, preying on people who were uninsured and deceiving consumers into paying hundreds of dollars per month for what they were led to believe was comprehensive health coverage.”

New York regulators said patients were often left with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. A woman with leukemia was denied coverage for an emergency hospital stay that cost thousands of dollars because she was told she had a pre-existing condition. Aliera denied a $15,000 claim for breast cancer treatment, according to regulators, while another patient said even routine doctor’s visits were not covered by Trinity.

State officials said the cases of financial hardship were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has spawned high unemployment and resulted in the loss of health insurance for millions of Americans.

“New Yorkers should not have to worry whether a trip to a medical professional could lead them to bankruptcy, a factor that has been compounded by this unprecedented global health crisis,” Linda A. Lacewell, the state’s superintendent of financial services, said in a statement.

The state said it would seek civil penalties and other relief on behalf of consumers, and had issued a cease-and-desist letter in April that prevented the group from enrolling new customers.

Both Trinity and Aliera have been the targets of actions by other states, including Connecticut and Washington. They say they are not selling health insurance and that there is no confusion about their plans. They say customers are expressly told there is no guarantee that their medical bills will be covered.

Customers “must acknowledge either on a recorded line or by signature that the program is not insurance,” Aliera said in a statement on Tuesday. It said plans would not be affordable if all pre-existing conditions were eligible for sharing but they “are a legitimate option for people of faith who maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Given the health crisis, “it’s deeply concerning to see New York State regulators working to deny their residents access to more affordable alternatives to traditional health insurance,” Aliera said.

Trinity disputed the claims made by state regulators. “The vast majority of Trinity’s members around the country are very pleased and satisfied with Trinity’s health care sharing ministry and continue to choose to participate in Trinity’s ministry as a cost-effective arrangement,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

In New Hampshire, where Trinity and Aliera are suing to block the state’s efforts to regulate their activities, a Superior Court judge in Merrimack County halted an administrative hearing to be held by regulators until their court case is resolved.

With the economic downturn’s

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