RED WING — Mayo Clinic no longer participates with health care sharing ministries, leaving members of the insurance alternatives to seek care elsewhere or pay out of pocket and apply for reimbursement.

Medi-Share, among the largest health care sharing ministries in the country, sent emails to members announcing the change this month. The organization cautioned reimbursement may be “significantly less” than what was charged because of the loss of in-network discounts, according to the notice.

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“We are disappointed the Mayo Clinic has decided that it will no longer accept payment from all health care sharing ministries, despite the strong relationship Medi-Share has built with Mayo over the last few years,” Karen Daniels, deputy medical director at Medi-Share, said in a statement July 24.

Medi-Share members going through oncology or rare disease treatment at Mayo Clinic are advised to contact their care manager to identify alternative providers, Daniels said. Medi-Share also has an online search tool to find providers in its network.

Mayo Clinic in a statement said it only accepts licensed and accredited health insurance companies.

According to the statement:

“These ministries are not subject to the oversight, legal requirements or consumer protections that real insurance requires. While health ministries represent themselves as an insurance alternative, there is no guarantee that they will cover the health expenses of their members, particularly because they are not required to maintain reserves to cover medical claims. Therefore, patients who rely on health ministries are effectively uninsured, and providers must work with them accordingly.”

Mayo Clinic said it will work with patients “to find appropriate solutions for their care,” adding, “Patients who seek more comprehensive coverage and administrative support may want to consider policies available from a licensed insurer.”

Health care sharing ministries are similar in concept to traditional health insurance. Members pay into the programs regularly and the money is used to cover the group’s collective medical expenses; however, the nonprofit, typically Christian-based organizations are not regulated as insurance companies and don’t have the same protections or coverage.

Medi-Share, for instance, says members “do not pay for abortions, drug addictions, or any other unbiblical lifestyles,” according to the organization’s website.

Executive Director Katy Talento with the trade organization Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries said the organizations meet federal definitions in the Affordable Care Act and are subject to oversight by state attorneys general.

“The Mayo Clinic’s apparent policy of treating religious, uninsured patients who are members of health care sharing ministries differently than other patients is disappointing and unfair toward religious Americans who seek an alternative solution for their health care needs outside the typical, secret pricing contracts between hospital systems and insurance companies," Talento said.

More than 27,000 Minnesotans are members of health care sharing ministries, according to the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries. Nationwide, 1.5 million members shared $1.3 billion in medical expenses in 2019.

Editor's note: This story was updated 3:20 p.m. July 27, 2020, with additional comments from Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries Executive Director Katy Talento.