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Members of Religious Colony Worth Millions Sue for Medicaid

  • March 4th, 2005

The Montana Supreme Court will soon decide whether seven women who are members of a religious community with millions of dollars in assets are nevertheless eligible for Medicaid coverage.

The women are members of the King Colony Hutterite community, which has an estimated $2.1 million assets in farmland, crops and livestock. In 1992, the women applied for and were granted Medicaid benefits for themselves and their families. Later, however, the state Department of Public Health and Human Services determined that the women don't qualify financially for Medicaid because they have access to the colony's net worth. The Department said that the colony had established a "trust relationship" through its founding documents.

The women contend they have no way to access the colony's resources because they have no vote in the colony. Kent Kasting, an attorney for the seven women, said the Hutterite men are the only members in the community who have access to the colony's financial resources. He said, "[The women] don't own anything. They can't -- they come into the world with nothing."

A state district judge ruled in favor of the women last March, and the state appealed. The Montana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on March 9.

If the women win the lawsuit, Montana might have to extend coverage to the 49 other Hutterite colonies in Montana, which totals 4,000 members.

"Any communal living situation, I guess any family trust, family farm trust, it would be I think easy for a multimillion-dollar farm organization to put their income into some kind of a trust and indicate that they're going to send their members to welfare to apply for health benefits," said Russ Cater, chief legal counsel for the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The Hutterites grew out of the 16th-century Anabaptist religious movement in Europe, which also gave rise to the Mennonites and Amish. They live in communal agricultural colonies, with men and women taking on traditional roles and wearing traditional clothing.

To read an Associated Press article on the controversy, go to: http://www.aberdeennews.com/mld/aberdeennews/news/11014207.htm

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Last Modified: 03/04/2005

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