This story was originally published by ProPublica.
Bonnie Martin kept the bleeding secret for as long as she could. Her sisters, boyfriend and sons knew nothing of her illness until suddenly, during a family gathering in October 2018 at a diner in Annapolis, Maryland, she began hemorrhaging.
A tumor had burst through the wall of her uterus. Doctors performed an emergency hysterectomy and removed what cancer they could reach. She needed multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, expensive stuff. As her family grew fearful, Martin walked that fine line between resilience and denial — she’d beat this, she said. She focused instead on fun things ahead, a trip to Ireland with her boyfriend and sisters, for instance, and a Rolling Stones concert.
Luckily, or so Martin thought, she had placed her trust — and her money — in Liberty HealthShare. Liberty is what’s known as a health care sharing ministry, a nonprofit alternative to medical insurance rooted in Christian principles. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on such organizations for basic health coverage. They promise no red tape, lower costs and compassion for the sick. Although Martin wasn’t religious, she found comfort in Liberty’s pledge to “carry one another’s burdens.”
Martin received treatment that pushed her cancer into remission. But 18 months later, it returned, this time in her lungs. She was dying.
Liberty covered her bills at first, but then, without warning or explanation, the payments stopped. Suddenly, she faced $10,000 in unpaid charges. Her whole life, she’d had pristine credit. Now creditors called constantly and sent harassing letters.
Martin refused to accept that her cancer was terminal. She was going to survive, and when she was rid of it, she needed those bills paid. She spent hours pleading over the phone with Liberty, straining to focus as the toxic drugs she was taking sapped her energy. Martin’s long, auburn curls fell out, and her memory was slipping.
Martin forwarded the overdue notices to Liberty, writing on one in pen, “WHY HAS THIS NOT BEEN PAID?” In emails Martin’s family shared with ProPublica, she pleaded, “I am asking for your help and compassion. Help me, I don’t know what else to do. … I CANNOT deal with this stress and fight cancer. You say you are a ministry and want to help people.
Martin died in July 2022 at age 63. Liberty never settled the bills that she had begged them to pay.
What Martin didn’t know when she joined Liberty was that she was sending her money to members of a family with a long and well-documented history of fraud.
For generations, members of the Beers family of Canton, Ohio, have used Christian faith to sell health coverage to more than a hundred thousand people like Martin. Instead they delivered pain, debt and financial ruin, according to an investigation by ProPublica based on leaked internal documents, land records, court files and interviews. They have done this not once but twice and have faced few consequences.
Patriarch Daniel J. Beers, 60, lies at the center of the family network. He was a leading figure in a scheme in the 1990s involving a health care sharing ministry that fraudulently siphoned tens of millions of dollars from members, court records show. Two decades later, he played a key role in building Liberty into one of the nation’s largest sharing ministries, several of the nonprofit’s current and former employees told ProPublica.
Four years after its launch in 2014, the ministry enrolled members in almost every state and collected $300 million in annual revenue. Liberty used the money to pay at least $140 million to businesses owned and operated by Beers family members and friends over a seven-year period, the investigation found. The family then funneled the money through a network of shell companies to buy a private airline in Ohio, more than $20 million in real estate holdings and scores of other businesses, including a winery in Oregon that they turned into a marijuana farm.
The family calls this collection of enterprises “the conglomerate.”.. Continue Reading