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January 7, 2013

Polygamists find insuring wives, children complicated

By Lori Johnston, InsWeb.com

Living in polygamy often means living without insurance.

The high costs and simple logistics of attaining insurance can be challenging for polygamists who have several wives and children.

Add the fear of being caught in polygamy – which is illegal, but often not enforced unless there are allegations of domestic violence, abuse or fraud – and polygamists often go without insurance.

“Most of them don’t even try because (getting insurance) is so prohibitive, both the cost and then so invasive into their private lives,” says Joe Darger, a Utah polygamist with three wives and 24 children (one child is deceased).

Even filling out an insurance form and listing numerous dependents can set off red flags that Darger says he and other polygamists want to avoid. Of course, insurance forms show only one spot to list a spouse.

“Now if the state was to come out and prosecute that, exactly the type of thing they would look for is your insurance records. ‘Did you claim your family?’” says Darger, who co-authored “Love Times Three” with wives Alina, Vicki and Valerie. Big Love

Concerns about being outed as a polygamist and leaving a paper trail join the sheer expense of covering several dependents for health or life insurance, as well as numerous cars and homes.

Not dependent on health insurance

Rebecca Kimbel’s father had six wives; she’s one of their 39 children. Kimbel, who now lives in California, doesn’t remember seeing a doctor or dentist when she was growing up in Utah.

“We never had (health) insurance. We did not get professional medical care. I had a horse roll over on me when I was a kid. Nobody called a doctor,” she recalls.

Kimbel says birth certificates in her family were falsified, which is one reason why some polygamists steer clear of insurance.

An assist from ‘Sister Wives’

Darger says a fellow polygamist adds all of his children to the health insurance coverage that his employer offers. This came about after he discovered that someone in the company’s human resources department liked the show “Sister Wives,” a TLC reality show about a polygamist family.

Once they got started talking about the show, the friend felt comfortable telling the HR representative that he was a polygamist, Darger says, and asked to have all of his children put on his policy. The kids were added.

The number of dependents who can be covered under a health insurance policy varies by the insurer, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade association representing the health insurance industry,

Darger, who now is self-employed, has health coverage for his legal wife, Alina, who has diabetes. The plan costs $800 a month just for her coverage.

“That is so financially straining on us. I couldn't afford anything else,” Darger says.

The family operates a residential and commercial cleaning service. But Darger says that when he pursued group health insurance for the business, which employs several family members, it was too expensive.

Facing the uncertain future with life insurance

For life insurance, Darger took out a $1 million policy, naming his legal wife, Alina, as the beneficiary.

“But it ain’t enough,” he says. “There is no way it would take care of my family, but it is all I can afford.”

Although polygamy is illegal in the U.S., it doesn’t affect naming beneficiaries on a life insurance policy. From a life insurance perspective, the polygamist may name several beneficiaries, says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. The only requirement is that all beneficiaries have an insurable interest in the policyholder, such as being a spouse, child or business partner.

If you name several beneficiaries on a life insurance policy, you must specify how much each beneficiary will receive; not all beneficiaries are required to receive equal shares.

Darger says polygamist families use their “own ethics” to share money when a husband and father dies. He also has set up a family trust to protect assets for his family. But he is not aware of many other polygamist families doing this because of the associated costs.

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