Montana High Court Rules in Religious Community Medicaid Case

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that a religious community with millions of dollars in assets is holding those assets in a trust for its members, but said it did not have enough information to determine if seven women who are members of the community 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. Anyone with more than $3,000 in assets is ineligible for Medicaid in Montana. The Department said that the colony had established a "trust relationship" through its founding documents.

The women argued they had no way to access the colony's resources because they have no vote in the colony. A state district judge ruled in favor of the women last March, and the state appealed.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the colony was holding the assets in trust for the members of the community, but it said it needed more information about whether the women had access to the funds. The court sent the case back to the district court to find out how much of the $2.1 million in assets "count" toward determining Medicaid eligibility, whether the assets are available to the women, and if so, what portion of them are available.

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.

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For the history of the case, click here.