Judge says class-action lawsuit against Atlanta-based health share ministry can go forward

ATLANTA — A federal judge has ruled that a class-action lawsuit can move forward against an Atlanta company Channel 2 Action News has been investigating for more than two years.

Aliera Companies has always maintained it is not an insurance company. That’s how it avoids following federal and state rules and laws that governor insurers.

But a judge disagreed.

“It was great. It was going to save us about $350 a month,” Deanne Rhodes said.

Rhodes is just the latest Aliera customer to call Channel 2 Action News with an Aliera horror story.

From a $325,000 bill for a 10-year-old brain tumor to big unpaid bills for everything from heart surgeries to emergency room visits, we’ve been investigating problems with health coverage through Atlanta-based Aliera for more than two years.

“I called, and the response was, ‘Well, we can’t pay unless we have money.’ I said, ‘Excuse me?’ She said, ‘We are not an insurance company, we don’t have a pool of money to pay from,’” Rhodes said.

But a federal judge in Atlanta, Amy Totenberg, just issued an 84-page ruling finding that “Aliera’s plans are insurance under Georgia law.”

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Aliera claims it’s not an insurer but instead administers payouts for a health care sharing ministry, Trinity Healthshare. Members pay monthly and are supposed to share medical expenses.

But Totenberg ruled that’s not true either, writing: “The court holds that Aliera, Unity, and Trinity are not valid HCMs under Georgia law.”

“They have this little thing at the end of the deal that says we’re not insurance, and they think that print gets rid of their duty to treat people fairly,” Atlanta attorney David Walbert said.

Walbert has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of potentially tens of thousands of Aliera customers.

Judge Totenberg’s ruling allows that lawsuit to move forward.

Aliera had claimed all complaints had to be dealt with by arbitration, not in a court of law.

Totenberg rejected that argument.

“No matter how illegal it is, no matter how bad it is, no matter how unjust it is, if you got arbitration and that that arbitration is enforceable, people are done,” Walbert said.

We reached out to Aliera Companies. A spokesperson told us “despite the judge’s findings behind this procedural ruling, we remain confident the underlying facts and the law are on our side and that we will prevail when the ultimate merits of this case are decided.”