Bishops Uneasy on Health Plan
  • Friday, July 13, 2012

By Joe Thoma

One of the most passionate debates in the House of Bishops came during its last legislative day, July 12, over implementation of a 2009 mandate that dioceses, parishes and related diocesan organizations offer health insurance to employees through the Church Medical Trust by the end of 2012.

Both houses had earlier in the convention passed Resolution B026. The Committee on the Church Pension Fund had softened the original legislation slightly, giving dioceses and parishes an additional three years to meet the requirement that they provide parity in health insurance cost-sharing between lay and clergy employees, and calling on the Church Medical Trust to continue to explore “more equitable sharing of health care premium costs.”

Dioceses and parishes still must offer health insurance to employees through the Church Medical Trust by the end of 2012, but the deadline for implementing the parity requirement is extended until Dec. 31, 2015.

In revisiting the health-insurance subject July 12, bishops debated Resolution C068, which called for suspending the Denominational Health Plan indefinitely, “pending consideration of a more equitable and unified Denominational Health Plan that eliminates unfair regional differences and dramatic cost disparities between dioceses.”

Bishops ultimately rejected C068, a move that essentially upheld B026. But not before several went on record opposing the health-insurance mandate in general. Criticisms centered on smaller parishes’ inability to fund health insurance equitably for existing employees, and in some cases even clergy. The extra expense could mean reducing staff.

The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin, Bishop of Western New York, said implementing the health-plan mandate would “impede God’s mission” in his diocese.

The Diocese of Nevada would be able to comply with the rule, but “the parishes couldn’t afford it,” said the Rt. Rev. Dan Thomas Edwards.

The Rt. Rev. John Tarrant, Bishop of South Dakota, said the Church Medical Trust has been helpful in his diocese’s working toward implementation.

“The Medical Trust has been very gracious,” he said, describing how the insurance provider had reduced premiums twice for the diocese. “However, the reality is … the denominational health plan is a burden for the diocese.”

Resolution B026 commends the 94 percent of the church’s domestic dioceses (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. portion of the Diocese of the Virgin Islands) that have joined the plan, and reaffirms the Dec. 31, 2012, enrollment deadline.

According to the 2009 rule, the guidelines set the minimum amount that a congregation must contribute toward the monthly premium for eligible clergy and lay employees. Dioceses that have already implemented the rule have opted to require employers to pay the full cost of employee health insurance or to have employees pay a percentage of their coverage.

In other business the House of Bishops concurred in the following resolutions:

  • D067 urges passage by Congress of the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth and young adults.
  • D023 affirms that all Episcopalians are called to be evangelists to help expand the kingdom of God, and commends the Office of Congregational Vitality and the Office of Emergent Church and Church Planting.
  • D055 presses the U. S. government to enact stricter controls on the use of carbon-based fuels.
  • D069 poses a “social media challenge,” calling upon every congregation to use those tools in their current and future forms.
  • A122 calls on the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church to study the current budgeting process and matters of financial oversight and to make recommendations to the 78th General Convention on possible changes.
  • D066 approves creation of a network of retired Episcopal executives willing to assist dioceses and parishes, modeled on SCORE, the small-business counseling network also known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
  • A040 urges Episcopalians to work for health-care reform.
  • D018 asks Congress to repeal federal laws that discriminate against same-sex couples who are legally married in the states where that is permitted.
  • D059 calls for a halt to the Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s practice of detaining people suspected of being in the country illegally without filing any charges against them.
  • B028 calls on Congress to reform the nation’s refugee resettlement efforts.
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