By Katy Talento

Tennessee lawmakers have a chance to strike a blow for health care freedom in the Volunteer State, but only if they act right away.

The full House and a Senate committee both have already passed HB 1163-SB 862, a bill which preserves the liberty of Tennesseans to choose their own health care options, such as Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs), instead of being coerced into Obamacare – where their premiums might be used for procedures that violate their religious beliefs – or forced to face expensive medical bills on their own. Now it’s up to the Senate to do the right thing and secure passage.

If enacted and signed by the governor, the law would draw a bright line to distinguish Health Care Sharing Ministries from health insurance. This is vitally important because it guarantees that Christians can join like-minded people in sharing health care costs in a faith-based community of believers without their ministries being harassed by government regulators. All HCSMs are charitable and voluntary membership organizations.

Since 1981, Health Care Sharing Ministries operating in all 50 states have facilitated the sharing of billions of dollars in medical expenses for their members. Some 28,000 Tennesseans already rely on HCSMs to share their health expenses with other members. In addition to saving money and avoiding red tape, HCSM members get something priceless that buyers of health insurance don’t: prayers, cards, letters and encouragement from other believers. What’s more, HCSMs are the only 100 percent pro-life health care solution available.

HB 1163, sponsored by Rep. Chris Todd, District 73 (Madison County), passed by an overwhelming majority in the House. The Senate version, SB 862, sponsored by Sen. Shane Reeves, District 14 (Bedford, Cannon, Moore and Rutherford Counties) was advanced in an overwhelming committee vote. Now, Senate Democrats and outside critics hostile to health care freedom are holding the bill hostage and doing their best to euthanize it.

These Democrats (read: socialists) apparently would prefer that Tennessee families are forced to go on Obamacare or buy health insurance rather than being part of an innovative, cost-saving solution. Frankly, this epitomizes the radical transformation of the Democratic Party, which was once mainstream but has now embraced faith phobia as its own religion.

In their effort to kill the bill, some Democrats and their outside allies have misrepresented Health Care Sharing Ministries, claiming that the bill would empower bad actors. The truth is that Attorneys General in many of the 31 other states that already have similar laws have been fully able to shut down bad actors masquerading as legitimate HCSMs. Tennessee Christians should have the same range of choices and protection that citizens enjoy in these other states. Critics are trying to convince the lawmakers that they should just delay the bill until next year in order to add fixes. This is a tactic they’ve employed in numerous other states, and it is simply a scheme to delay the bill until the clock runs out. Lawmakers should not be fooled by this ploy.

If the bill does not get final approval by Friday, April 21, and dies from inaction, Tennessee will remain one of the only conservative states that has not taken this step.

The proposed law does several important things:

  • It clarifies that HCSMs are not insurance, and therefore not subject to the insurance code or associated regulations.
  • By clarifying that HCSMs are not insurance, it preserves the Attorney General’s already-existing enforcement authority and allows them to act more quickly against bad actors.
  • The bill preserves HCSMs as a viable choice for Tennesseans who are seeking a health care solution that is consistent with their religious beliefs.
  • It clarifies for consumers that HCSMs are not insurance and helps distinguish HCSMs from other organizations in the marketplace.

Democrats and outside critics of Health Care Sharing Ministries want to force more and more people on to Obamacare exchanges by stoking falsehoods and fears. Make no mistake. This is about more than HCSMs. It is about whether Tennessee lawmakers are willing to protect volunteer health care freedom in the Volunteer State.

Executive Director of the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, Katy Talento was the top health advisor at the White House Domestic Policy Council and an oversight investigator and legislative director for the U.S. Senate.