You’ve raised an important question, as many churches today are developing health care ministries to address the health or wellness needs of church members or the community at large. These medical ministries are intended to use the skills of volunteer medical professionals to offer such services as blood pressure screening, vision exams, cholesterol testing or simple check-ups.
How does insurance apply to these ministry health care operations? As you might expect, it depends to some extent on the church’s insurance policy. Typically, individual medical professionals will not be covered under a church’s general liability policy unless a special endorsement is purchased that specifically covers medical malpractice. But a separate malpractice policy is typically not required for the church itself.
Many general liability policies provide “Incidental Medical Malpractice” coverage as an automatic coverage. Incidental Medical Malpractice coverage extends liability coverage to an organization that is not in the business of providing medical care, but it does not extend coverage to the medical professionals themselves. As the name implies, incidental medical malpractice coverage also doesn’t apply to organizations that are in the business of providing medical care. So, if your church’s general liability coverage includes Incidental Medical Malpractice coverage, and if the church is not considered to be in the business of providing medical care to others, then no additional malpractice-specific coverage should be needed in order for your organization to have coverage.
The concept of being “in the business of providing medical care” can become an issue if the church’s medical ministry becomes more than “incidental”. For example, if the church were to open a full-time, fully-staffed, medical clinic that’s open to the public 5 or 6 days a week, it’s likely that the malpractice exposure would be considered to be more than incidental. But for a once a month or twice a month wellness “open house”, in which volunteer doctors or nurses offer simple tests or check-ups, the church should be on solid footing as far as incidental medical malpractice coverage is concerned.
“Good Samaritan” statutes likely won’t apply to scheduled medical tests or check-ups. These laws are intended to protect individuals at an accident scene who offer first aid to others on a volunteer basis. Under a good samaritan law, an individual who offers medical aid in an emergency situation is generally immune from liability for any additional harm that they cause if they are acting in good faith. These laws vary by state, and may or may not benefit the organization for which a volunteer is working at the time that aid is provided. Due to the narrow scope of these statutes, it’s unlikely that they would apply to a ministry’s free medical clinic.
To be certain that the church has coverage for incidental health care exposures, you’ll want to review the ministry’s general liability insurance policy to look for “Incidental Medical Malpractice” coverage. If you find this coverage, you’ll want to read through the policy wording to ensure that the coverage lines up with the above description. If your church has an insurance agent, he or she should be able to assist with this assessment as well. If you wish to provide malpractice coverage to the individual medical professionals who are volunteering for this work, you may be able to add coverage for them to you policy. Likewise, if your health care ministry is something more than incidental (like an ongoing medical clinic), you’ll want to obtain coverage for the malpractice exposure. Your insurance agent should be happy to talk to you about this.