Important Health Insurance Update, September 2010

Dear Servants In Christ,

In our efforts to strive to be good stewards of our health and our finances and the relationships we share, we continue to face many challenges. We outline some difficult ones below and ask that you take time to read this letter. The good news is that our staff and consultants are working hard to present choices in how to respond to those challenges at the Fall Session of Conference in November. In the next month we will receive the actual premium rates for 2011 from our carrier, and then we will send an additional letter with the specific numbers. We also sought more bids from other carriers.

We again want to thank everyone who participated in the discussions and meetings surrounding our health Plan during Annual Conference. We know this is not an easy topic to discuss, and one that is personal and emotional. We appreciate your feedback and input; it is vital that we uphold our connectional system. As a result of passing the resolution at Annual Conference, we will have the premium rates for both an HSA, and our insurance current plan design for comparison. Due to continuing dynamics of higher claims, we anticipate an additional steep increase in premiums. We hope to be able moderate the increase by using an HSA plan for 2011.

Dangerous & Growing Problem: Churches Are Not Paying

While we are working to create a health insurance plan that balances the stewardship of both our health and our finances, we are facing a growing problem. An increasing number of churches and pastors are requesting financial assistance to help meet the health insurance expense. We also face a continued growing problem of churches that are not paying, or paying late, the health insurance portion of their direct bill. In 2009, the unmet contribution shortfall of the churches’ contribution to the Insurance Plan was $239,797. And as of June 2010, the shortfall has increased an additional $324,000 for clergy health insurance, and $105,000 for the local church lay employee health insurance. These shortfalls amount to a $429,000 burden that our Plan labors under.

We urge you to do all you can to pay your bill on time and to make the local churches aware of the need to fulfill these obligations. We must be vigilant in our approach to stewardship, both in how we receive our offerings, and how we use our resources. The shortfalls limit our options, and lay an increasing liability and burden upon all the churches in our connectional system. They also limit our options and ability to move from one plan or carrier to another, and if unaddressed will present several dangers to us as we move into the future.

Response

In the past, when this shortfall was smaller, the lost income was subsidized by adding it to the Composite Rate; that practice can not continue. We expect to assess the shortfall to the Connectional Health Insurance Fund (formerly the Waiver Fee), and itemize and charge this amount separately from the Composite Rate, so that everyone can understand more clearly how the funding problems are affecting our finances and charges. Since we live and work in a connectional system, we see that we need to move to require every church to contribute something to the Fund, not just those that are eligible to participate.

These are difficult times, but as a people who entrust ourselves to God’s care, we need to face our problems and challenges and not avoid them. Once named, we can clarify the move forward, as we understand how God is leading us. The steps we are taking include :

  • Sending information and updates about what is owed by individual churches and pastors to the Cabinet and District offices,
  • Sending letters to individual churches seeking to understand why payment is late.
  • Seek from the local churches that are behind a commitment to a plan to rectify the situation, such as strengthening the church’s stewardship program.

Please pray for this effort, and the responses from our churches.

The Real Issue To Focus On

Our real, underlying problem to our health insurance costs is determined by how well we take care of ourselves. We need to be good stewards of all the resources that God has entrusted to us, especially our health. To have healthy churches, we need healthy pastors. We can be angry with the insurance carriers, we can be upset with the circumstances in our society, or the challenges presented to us by our vocation and individual appointments. But in the end we need to focus on what we are capable of doing to improve our health. Whatever health insurance plan we use, if we don’t take care of our families and ourselves, we will continue to face higher health insurance costs, and not fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to us. The only options we will have will be to raise the premiums and/or increases the co-pays.

Practical Understanding

The personal stories about health that many folks have taken the time to share are helpful to hear. By hearing them, we understand that what we face are a variety of human challenges that God can help us with. My personal prayer before a meal has become not just a prayer of gratitude, but one that seeks to understand what and how much God wants to me to eat. Taking time to pray while exercising is vital for us, if we seek to reduce the common health issues we face like stress, hypertension, circulation and heart disease, and diabetes. I had a pastor tell me that when he brought the issue of his health and what he was doing to strengthen it to his SPRC, they told him that his health was his responsibility, not theirs. But it is vital for us to see how our health has a great impact on relationships and the connections we share. Our churches need to create ways to empower and encourage one another to do what is best as good stewards of our health, and make our churches places of healing.

Our connectional system can be a blessing when the focus is on building relationships in Christ; we can be stronger together as we learn to support and encouraging each other. Thank you for taking the time to read and work to understand and respond to the challenges we face. We look forward to sending more info about our Health Insurance Plan in the next month as the information becomes available to us. And we look forward to working together as we move forward to strengthen our lives in Christ. God’s blessings to all, Rev. Timothy Carl Anderman, Chair of the Health Benefits Committee; Peter DiNofia, Conference Treasurer; Jo Fielding, Benefits Officer; and the Board of Pensions & Health Benefits