Does this denomination need a national UCC health plan? If so, is the Pension Boards the place where such a plan should be administered? Is our current health care plan viable long-term?
With these three questions, 11 persons gathered from Oct. 31 to Nov.1 at the UCC's Church House in Cleveland to continue the "Health Care Conversation" begun last June.
Marie Dufresne of the Hay Group, compensation and benefits consultants, led the discussion.
"The only way to guarantee full access [to health insurance for everyone you want to cover] is to have your own national plan, with no underwriting restrictions," she said. "The trick is to design your plan so that the benefits won't exceed the cost."
One benefit that participants agreed on was a change in the present plan's 90-day open enrollment policy. Joan F. Brannick, executive vice president of the Pension Boards, which administers the UCC health care plan, explained that no eligibility changes had been made since the previous conversation in June.
"Without total church support, rates could go up about 25 percent," she said. "The Pension Boards needs confidence that support would be there throughout the whole system."
The group also discussed how local churches perceive health care costs.
"I think they see health insurance as a part of the pastor's income rather than as a cost of running a parish," said the Rev. Jean Alexander, Maine Conference Minister.
"We're trying to say the opposite," said the Rev. F. Russell Mitman, Pennsylvania Southeast Conference Minister, "that health care insurance is a cost of running a parish and not a special benefit for the pastor."
The group agreed to recommend a change in the UCC's annual report form that would make this distinction and move away from the "package approach."
The group also revisited the question of who "owns" the health care plan. At the June meeting, participants had agreed that it really is the denomination's plan, although the Pension Boards has been administering it since 1983.
"Local churches see the Pension Boards as one of many different venders and don't see themselves as owners or stakeholders," said Mitman.
"We have the notion that we have to sell property insurance but we don't have to sell health insurance. And I think this is not true," said the Rev. Martha Ann Baumer of UCC-related Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.
"So we need to bring a new approach to health coverage in the UCC," Baumer said.
"It's important not to lose the missional focus that we are church people with a product to serve the church," said Michael A. Downs, executive director of the UCC Insurance Board. "I would argue that a plan could be put together that could meet the needs for accessibility and affordability, so local church decision makers could see this as part of their mission and make a choice to join this program."
By the end of the session participants agreed that they could not answer the three questions with which they had begun.
Instead, they opted to take a few specific action steps before the UCC leadership's Annual Consultation, next Feb. 20-24 in San Antonio.
Following the Consultation, a new Advisory Committee will meet to determine what comes next.