Conference chooses Aetna for lower 2018 insurance hike

By Jo Fielding
Eastern PA Conference Benefits Officer

The Eastern PA Conference will switch its health insurance coverage in 2018 from Independence Blue Cross back to Aetna, its carrier just three years ago, after negotiating the lowest cost increase it could find: 10.2 percent more than its 2017 rate. Pennsylvania approved increases to Healthcare Exchange costs for 2018 ranging from 22 to 49 percent across the state. Among the reasons for these increases is the uncertainty about the future of the nation’s Affordable Care Act.

While we do not participate in the exchange, we did receive a quote from Independence Blue Cross for a high, 28.9 percent increase over our 2017 rate.

The conference sent out requests for proposals from other companies, followed by negotiation by our benefits consultants and careful consideration by our Board of Pension and Health Benefits. Finally, we accepted a bid from Aetna with a 10.2 percent increase over our 2017 rates.

In an effort to contain this increase and limit the burden to local churches and clergy families, the Board approved a $500,000 contribution from its Health Insurance Reserve. That decision will mitigate the increased costs for 2018.

In 2019, our conference may likely move its insurance coverage to HealthFlex, which is available to annual conferences and UMC-affiliated organizations with 100 or more employees. One key advantage is the buying power of 8,000 plan members. Additionally, HealthFlex does not require a reserve equal to three months of premium costs.

“If we will not need the reserve beyond 2018, we should use it now to keep the composite rate close to what it was for 2017,” commented the Rev. Coleen Painter, Board President.

Composite rates are slightly less for most churches in 2018, although there are more tiers in the total range.  A church’s composite tier is based on its three-year average Adjusted Gross Tax Payment (AGTP).

The Aetna plans offered in 2018 include a Bronze plan with a high deductible of $6,450 for individuals and $12,900 for families, but no premium for clergy. The two silver plans offered are a HDHC (High-Deductible Health Coverage) plan with an HSA (Health Savings Account) option, and a silver plan with visit copays of $30 for a physician and $70 for a specialist, both from day one–no need to reach the deductible first.

The stand-alone options of dental, vision, critical illness and hospital indemnity will continue with no change in plan design and no increase in costs to the participant.

The national drugstore chain CVS Health announced this week that it plans to purchase Aetna in order to expand its services. The proposed acquisition is not yet a done deal, and it must still receive the blessing of shareholders and federal regulators.

If approved, the deal could close in the second half of 2018; but there are no guarantees. While it has the potential to help access points and slow down the rate increase for pharmacy costs, that outcome has yet to be proven.