HOUSTON — They thought they were buying health insurance, but what they got wasn’t insurance at all.
Nearly 200 consumers have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Texas Attorney General’s Office claiming a faith-based Houston company took their money but left them with little to no coverage and a lot of unpaid medical bills.
The complaints from across the country share a similar pattern — consumers searched online, typed in their information and later got a call pitching an affordable plan.
“They said it was a PPO multi-plan,” said Melissa Boldi.
“Everything was covered for this extremely low rate,” added Caitlin Hurst.
“He said it’s in the same network as United Healthcare,” said Cynthia Woods.
They signed up believing it was full coverage only to get a card in the mail that read “this is not insurance.” It was from a company they said was never mentioned in those initial calls — Jericho Share.
Jericho Share’s website lists an address at a UPS store on Westheimer Road in West Houston. Business filings show since last September, it’s been affiliated with Houston church House of Prayer and Life, a metal warehouse-style building on Davidson Street on the city’s northeast side.
The arrangement is known as a health care sharing ministry. Members who share religious or ethical beliefs pay into a fund that is used to cover or share other members’ medical costs. But health care sharing ministries are not regulated like traditional health plans under the Affordable Care Act and there is no guarantee of coverage or legal obligation to pay claims.
Boldi learned that the hard way after a trip to the emergency room.
“I got a bill from the hospital that was over $1,000,” she said. “And I called this company and I said ‘why isn’t any of this covered? It says that you didn’t cover any of it,’ and they told me ‘well, you don’t have hospital coverage,’” Boldi said.
Hurst, who is a small business owner, said she’s on the hook for nearly $20,000 in medical bills Jericho Share didn’t pay.
“I thought I was covered. I was told I was covered and I wasn’t,” Hurst said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m kind of at a point where I may have to file for bankruptcy,” she said.
She and many other consumers complained to the BBB, trying to get a resolution.
“Over 150 complaints in the last year alone, so it is a very high amount of complaints,” said Leah Napoliello, Vice President of Operations for the Houston BBB.
Napoliello said while health care sharing ministries are legal, it’s how they are marketed that can cross the line.
“It appears to be third-party marketers that are contacting these people via phone, leading them to believe that this is health insurance when it really is not health insurance,” Napoliello said. “That’s a huge problem.”
At least two states confirm they are investigating Jericho Share, the Texas Department of Insurance and the New Hampshire Insurance Department, which filed a notice claiming it’s “acting as an unauthorized insurance company.”
A Jericho Share spokesman said the company is cooperating with authorities and “does not condone any misrepresentation and is making sure that we communicate openly and transparently with members.”
The company said it’s redesigned its website to clearly disclose it is not a health insurance company and has shifted away from mostly using outside sales centers. The company added it is granting refunds to any new member who requests one within 30 days of signing up.
But for former members, Napoliello said it has been a difficult, dragged-out process to get reimbursed for premiums paid or to cancel memberships.
For James and Cynthia Woods, their fight to get more than $800 back has taken months, and they still have not seen a dime.
“They do not need to be in business, any type of business,” James Woods said.
KHOU 11 Investigates also asked the House of Prayer and Life about the allegations. Pastor Yoshika Berroud said she was unaware of the consumer complaints and would not comment on the financial relationship her church has with Jericho Share.
The BBB advises anyone looking for health insurance to make sure they visit the official government website for the health insurance marketplace. Other search engine returns can link consumers to third-party ads and marketing companies.