Written by Rebecca Woods
Delegates to General Synod 28 took it upon themselves to restore the vigor of the resolution “Affirming Healthcare Coverage for UCC Authorized Ministers and Their Families” after the committee had effectively diluted it. The amended resolution passed with 81 percent of the vote.
Patti Kenney of the Michigan Conference took the floor Tuesday morning to restore words, excised by the committee, resolving to “encourage the Pension Boards serving the UCC to offer to make medical coverage available to all clergy and their family members when they are called to, or begin a new position, within the life of our church.”
The committee, a few days prior to the resolution coming before delegates, had substituted a call for education about the program offered by the Pension Board and wider enrollment in the program so that the pool could be increased and the costs spread over a larger group.
Paul Bryant Smith of Connecticut said, “The entire point of the resolution was excised. To remove that language guts the whole thing.”
“We decided we were not in the position to urge one piece of coverage without taking into consideration of the total costs of the program,” said Nancy Gottschalk, a member of the committee.
A number of clergy members stepped to microphones in the plenary to tell personal stories of incomplete or denied health coverage.
“Lord, you keep them humble, and we’ll keep them poor, was the motto of many church councils over the years,” said Julie Bell of Penn Central. “So many of us have lost the ability to have health insurance. Please take seriously the needs of pastors.”
Annie Mockridge of Missouri Mid-South Conference noted that General Synods in the past have voted to affirm the right of all to have health care. “How can be we be taken seriously if we can’t provide health care for our own clergy families?”
“The Pension Board strives to make health insurance available to everyone, but the only way we can pay for it is to spread the costs,” said Marti Baumer, chair of the trustees of the Pension Board, from the plenary floor. “We can do what you ask but we will have to increase the costs for everyone.”
During the hearings, Michael Downs, executive vice president of the UCC Pension Boards, offered some background on the UCC health insurance plan. “Our plan is a 100 percent self-insured PPO. We are high consumers of health care, and we have to understand that reality.”
He noted that
· The average age of a person in the UCC plan is 59; it’s 32-34 nationally.
· The average cost for a PPO nationally is $15,000; it’s $17,000 for the UCC plan.
· The open enrollment period is within 90 of a clergy person’s first call.
· Two-thirds enroll in the plan after those first 90 days but a medical exam is required to determine any pre-existing conditions that would preclude coverage.
“We don’t ‘risk’ rate, and we don’t cancel,” Downs said. “In 2012 we will begin to ‘age’ rate which means we will give lower rates to people in their 20s and 30s. We won’t raise the rates for the older population.”