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Former N.H. Insurance Commissioner Defends Company Ordered to Stop Selling Insurance

Todd Bookman/NHPR

The company barred from selling health plans by the New Hampshire Insurance Department this week includes on its board of directors the man who served as the state’s top insurance regulator until last summer.

Roger Sevigny, who was commissioner of the state Insurance Department for 15 years before retiring in the summer of 2018, is defending his role as a member of the board of Aliera Healthcare, which was ordered Wednesday to stop selling illegal insurance policies in New Hampshire. 

Sevigny joined Aliera's board in September. At that time, the company was already facing scrutiny in New Hampshire from Sevigny’s successor, as well as cease and desist orders in multiple states for questionable business practices.

The company, which is headquartered in Atlanta, administers and markets health coverage on behalf of  health care sharing ministries including Trinity HealthShare, which offer a type of coverage that industry watchers often advise consumers to proceed with caution before purchasing.

Members of a health care sharing ministry typically agree to honor a set of religious or ethical beliefs. They then make monthly “contributions” to the health care sharing ministry, with the expectation that the money will be shared when medical bills arise. While the process is similar to traditional insurance in some ways, the companies are under no obligation to pay certain claims and often fail to provide comprehensive coverage.

On Trinity HealthShare's website, the company states that it “bases its principles of healthcare upon sharing one another’s burden,” and that “its commitment to care comes from a tradition anchored in prayer through the Baptist association of churches.”  

New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner John Elias issued a public warning in May that Aliera “may be operating illegally in New Hampshire,” in part, by functioning as a for-profit entity, which is prohibited under state law.  

This week, the Insurance Department issued a cease and desist order against Aliera, Trinity HealthShare and Ensurian after receiving dozens of complaints from New Hampshire consumers.

In addition to illegally selling employer plans in the state, the Insurance Department alleges Trinity wasn’t formed before 2000, as required by state law.

“There are legitimate health care sharing ministries that offer coverage for their members, but Aliera and Trinity are not one of them,” Elias said in a statement.

A Mission to Believe In

Sevigny, who held Elias’ position until last year, countered that there are “two sides” to the current situation, and that “I believe Aliera is right.”

Sevigny said that he did consulting work for the company before being asked to join the board. 

“I was aware of their background, what they were doing, and what they had done,” he said in an interview Thursday.

When asked about the possible risk to his reputation in joining a company that’s been in the crosshairs of regulators in recent months, Sevigny said, “I’m not sure why I would worry about the risk to my reputation being on a board of a company that I believe in.” 

The state says approximately 1,400 New Hampshire residents who have plans offered through Trinity HealthShare or Ensurian will need to find new health insurance. Open enrollment for purchasing policies through the Affordable Care Act runs from November 1 through December 15.

Sevigny declined to say how much he earns as an Aliera board member, or if he intervened with his former colleagues at the Insurance Department on behalf of the company. 

Aliera issued a statement to NHPR Thursday afternoon, which read: "New Hampshire has some of the highest health insurance premium rates in the country, so it's deeply disappointing to see state regulators working to deny residents access to a more affordable alternative offered by our health share ministry partner. Additionally, they have asked us to make claims about our health share ministry partner that contradict fundamental facts and the law, all without providing any explanation.  We will be appealing the department's decision to an impartial administrative court."

The company said it was willing to cease operations in New Hampshire, but that it couldn't abide by the Insurance Department's request to also make agreements concerning Trinity HealthShare, which Aliera maintains is an independent entity. 

(Read Aliera's response to the Insurance Department by clicking here.)

Regulators Allege Wrongdoing 

New Hampshire is the latest state to take regulatory action against Aliera.

Texas regulators took action against Aliera in May. According to a Houston Chronicle investigation, state officials accused the company of misleading customers. Less than a week later, Washington State followed suit with a cease and desist order. In September, the company was fined more than $1 million for violating state law. 

In August, Colorado insurance regulators accused Aliera and its partners of potentially “putting consumers at risk” after it received complaints from consumers.

Under a New Hampshire law passed in 2012, health care sharing ministries are exempt from regulation and permitted to offer programs to consumers if certain conditions are met. That includes continually operating prior to 2000, obtaining tax-exempt status, and limiting membership to participants who “share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs.”

New Hampshire regulators accuse Aliera of failing to adequately disclose to potential consumers that it adheres to a Christian belief system. The Insurance Department says it received complaints from consumers whose claims were denied because they were “deemed inappropriate for a Christian lifestyle.” 

Aliera was formed in 2015 and authorized to do business in New Hampshire in March 2018, according to documents posted on the Secretary of State’s website. 

The Houston Chronicle’s investigation of the company revealed that its co-founder, Timothy Moses, was convicted of securities fraud in 2005 and sentenced to more than six years in prison for artificially inflating the value of a biotechnology firm and then selling shares in the company before the stock crashed. 

Eight months after his probation on those charges ended, Moses and his wife, Shelley Steele, formed Aliera, according to the Chronicle. Steele continues to serve as CEO of the company. Her son Chase Moses serves on the company’s board of directors alongside Sevigny. 

Sevigny said he has no plans to step down from his position, and that he intends to help the company succeed.

“Being able to continue being a player in the market, offering the products that they do, and I look forward to helping them do that,” said Sevigny.

(Editor's Note: this post has been updated)

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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