New laws open door to Christian medical coverage

Churchgoers who pledge to live a healthy life are eligible for program

By Roger Alford
Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentuckians will again be able to sign up for a Christians-only medical program under a batch of new laws that take effect Tuesday.

Lawmakers passed the law allowing Medi-Share, a Florida-based cost-sharing ministry, to resume operations in Kentucky, reacting to a judge’s ruling that barred the program from the state.

That law, along with dozens of others taking effect Tuesday, allows churchgoers who pledge not to smoke, drink, use drugs or engage in sex outside of marriage to sign up with Medi-Share.

State Sen. Tom Buford, chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, said the new law is crucial to many Kentuckians because Medi-Share costs, which average about $300 a month, are far less than traditional insurance plans. Buford said that makes Medi-Share an important option for people caught in the crack between making too much money to receive federal subsidies to cover insurance premiums under federal health care reforms and too little money to pay insurance premiums out of pocket.

Other new laws taking effect Tuesday would give people with sincerely held religious beliefs stronger protections from government infringement, set the stage for Kentucky farmers to grow industrial hemp if the federal government lifts restrictions on the marijuana-lookalike, and allow school districts to begin the process for increasing the minimum age for dropping out from 16 to 18.

The state Constitution requires new laws take effect 90 days after adjournment of the Legislature unless they specify alternative effective dates. This year’s session adjourned on March 26, making Tuesday the day most laws will take effect.

Buford said he considers the Medi-Share law one of the most important of the year because it allows qualifying Kentucky residents a less-expensive alternative to health care coverage.

“It’s a great savings,” Buford said. “In almost every situation, you’d be able to purchase Medi-Share at a savings of 30 to 40 percent less than traditional insurance.”

The law exempts Medi-Share from state regulations that apply to traditional insurance companies. It requires people taking part in Medi-Share to sign a notice acknowledging they’re aware that they have no guarantee their medical bills will be paid. Medi-Share bills itself as a charitable endeavor to help cover medical bills of fellow Christians who could potentially have their own expenses
covered should the need arise.

Under a separate law that takes effect Tuesday, people of all faiths would have stronger legal standing in court when claiming that the government has infringed on their religious beliefs.

The law protects “sincerely held religious beliefs” from infringement without “a compelling governmental interest.”

Gov. Steve Beshear had vetoed the legislation shortly after it passed because of concerns that it could undermine civil rights protections for gays and lesbians and lead to costly lawsuits for taxpayers. Lawmakers overrode that veto, saying the law isn’t intended to discriminate against anyone, but to protect everyone against government intrusion on religious matters.

The law was one of the most polarizing issues of the last legislative session, pitting civil rights groups against religious organizations.

Lawmakers said the need for the law became obvious when several Amish men were jailed to refusing to put fluorescent orange triangles on their horse-drawn buggies in western Kentucky.

The hemp growing law, while effective Tuesday, is of little effect unless the federal government relents on the issue. Once a politically taboo idea in Kentucky, growing hemp has become increasingly popular among Kentucky politicians.

Hemp thrived in Kentucky generations ago but has been classified a controlled substance for decades.

Proponents contend the crop could be an economic boon for Kentucky. Besides creating another crop for the state’s farmers, they say using hemp to manufacturer products ranging from paper to cosmetics would create manufacturing jobs.

The human trafficking law creates harsher punishments for offenders and protects victims from being charged with crimes they were forced to commit, including prostitution. The law requires human traffickers to forfeit property used in their crimes and pay fines that would go into a victims’ fund.

Kentucky has a law taking effect that ends a Prohibition-era ban on the sale of alcohol at restaurants, bars and retail stores on Election Day.

Kentucky had been one of the last states to lift the ban. In the past five years, similar bans have been lifted in Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Utah and West Virginia. South Carolina still has a ban of Election Day alcohol sales.