The Colorado Division of Insurance receives hundreds of complaints a year from consumers, but few trouble chief deputy commissioner Kate Harris as much as the ones she began hearing earlier this year.
They concerned a company called Aliera Healthcare and an organization it administers called Trinity Healthshare. Trinity is a so-called health care sharing ministry, a group that pools members’ money to help pay medical bills but, because of an exemption in the law, doesn’t have the legal obligations that modern insurance companies do. In some ways, sharing ministries operate the way insurance companies used to before the Affordable Care Act — cheaper but also less comprehensive.
So, when Harris began hearing complaints that Aliera and Trinity were making promises they weren’t living up to, she took them seriously.
“The ones we received, honestly, they keep me up at night,” she said. “They’re devastating.”
Harris declined to say more because of her ongoing investigation. But that investigation has already led to an unprecedented enforcement action against a sharing ministry in Colorado: cease and desist letters sent to both Aliera and Trinity. The letters accuse the companies of essentially marketing themselves as insurance providers without offering the same level of security.
But, in Colorado, Aliera and Trinity are just one element in an increasingly complicated — and, perhaps, increasingly popular — sharing ministry landscape. And, with open enrollment for 2020 health insurance plans coming up, it’s a landscape tens of thousands of Coloradans struggling to pay for traditional insurance might consider exploring.
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