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Health Plan to move forward

General Convention’s Committee on the Church Pension Fund voted July 6 to affirm most of the terms of the mandatory Denominational Health Plan that must be implemented by January 1, 2013. However, the committee set as December 31, 2015, the date by which lay employees must be given the same options in health insurance that are provided to clergy.

This resolution affirms the one passed by the 76th General Convention in 2009 — resolution A177  — which called for a Denominational Health Plan (DHP) that guarantees access to equal coverage by clergy and lay employees who work at least  30 hours per week.

The DHP requires that all domestic dioceses, congregations, other ecclesiastical organizations or bodies subject to the authority of the Church, and institutions so designated by a particular diocese, must participate in the plan through the Episcopal Church Medical Trust.

A177 states that dioceses have autonomy in deciding which health plan options to offer, what the minimum coverage will be, cost-sharing requirements, the offering of health coverage to domestic partners, and whether or not institutions such as schools would be included.  The Diocese of West Texas decided early on in the process that schools and other institutions will not be included in the mandate under the DHP, but will have the ability to participate if they so choose.

Passage of A177 in 2009 was driven by two factors:  a projected savings in premium costs by a widening pool of persons covered, and the justice aspects of providing health coverage for lay employees that is equal to that provided for clergy. Some cost containment has already been achieved and more is expected when DHP is fully implemented.

Since 2009, many dioceses have  raised objections to A177, saying that the cost of the plan will be untenable, and congregations may begin to reduce full-time lay employees to part-time status  (fewer than 30 hours per week) to avoid the eligibility threshold. That dilemma is now pushed back to 2015 with the Committee on Church Pension Fund’s new recommendation.

In response to rates across the country, the Medical Trust has been working over the past several years looking for ways to “share” the health benefit burden across the country. In 2009, there were 14 different pricing bands that are based on geographic and demographic costs of health care in the various regions of the United States. By 2012, these bands were compressed to ten bands, and the hope is to have seven bands by January 2013.

In the Diocese of West Texas, says Canon to the Ordinary Kirk Mason, the insurance committee has been meeting regularly and has been preparing congregations for the DHP requirements.  In West Texas, congregations are currently required to pay 100 percent of the health insurance costs for clergy and their families, and health insurance plans must be through the Church Medical Trust. There has not been a similar requirement for lay employees.

The Committee on the Church Pension Fund will now hold hearings on its recommendations, likely on Monday, July 9.

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