Denominational Health Plan: General Convention’s Winners and Losers
I covered this earlier in my recap of GC77 resolutions nobody talked about. But it is worth highlighting. As one bishop told me privately, “This is a justice issue.” S/he meant it sincerely, and I was surprised to hear a contemporary Episcopalian bishop use that high priority word in criticism of an internal church matter.
With the average TEC congregation hovering around six dozen active participants, and that handful with the highest average age among American denominations, the financial viability of most congregations is precarious. Congregational leaders must perform triage at budget time: Try to keep a full time priest or go with part-time pastoral leaders? Make or defer building repairs? Maintain staff hours or cut them below thresholds requiring pension and health insurance benefits, which can be constantly increasing budget busters?
Several years ago, The Episcopal Church (TEC) put in place a Denominational Health Plan (DHP) that was pitched as a way to reduce premiums and take some stress off of congregational budgets. The idea seemed prudent and practical. By mandating that all churches pay into one national plan, the pool of participants would increase, causing premiums to go down. Small dioceses, especially in rural or sparsely populated areas, would have an easier time supporting badly needed clergy, because their premiums would be lowered by the participation of more numerous clergy and staff in larger, mainly urban, dioceses.
But the church was not given all the facts until the plan was rolled out as a fait accompli. The provider “indexes” the premiums, and less populous dioceses still pay higher - horrifically higher - premiums than more populous places. In addition, the plan favors TEC clergy in a demographic majority: older, single or partnered (not necessarily married in accordance with The Book of Common Prayer’s traditional, Biblical definition.) An old, gay man and his boyfriend in a Manhattan parish have a more reasonable health premium than a married man with kids on a South Dakota Reservation.
As that bishop said, “a justice issue.” TEC did triage, just like a struggling parish Vestry, and decided to have winners and losers when it came to the DHP. And there were significant losers, as the sponsors of one resolution at GC 77 explained,
This negatively affected minority inlcudes eligible employees younger than the median age of the risk pool, who can often find comparable individual plans for less than half the (Denominational Health Plan) rate, and churches in rural areas, who are paying annual family premiums upwards of $35,000.
That’s right, we have congregations asked to pay $35K per year for their clergy to have family health coverage. In South Dakota, there are examples of Reservation missions where the Vicar’s health coverage costs the church more than his/her salary.
Who were some of the losers? You can tell by the array of sponsors who put forward resolutions to modify, opt out of, suspend or otherwise temper the DHP’s negative impact - reform measures which were all rejected by GC77.
Diocese of West Missouri
Diocese of Central New York
Diocese of Ohio
Province VI (Dioceses of Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming).
Several individual clergy and lay people.
Oh, but there was a winner. GC 77 passed a resolution (B026) praising and exhorting more compliance with the exisiting plan. It’s most prominent advocate was Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an older, partnered gay man who spent his time as Bishop of New Hampshire traveling around the globe to speak at gay events, along with a stint in alcohol rehab. Now retired, he’s more available for more of the same - and TEC has built a health plan to enable his kind of “ministry.”
Older Gay/Lesbian/Other Sexually Defined sorts: Winners.
Small/Rural/Missionary Dioceses: Losers.
Coastal Urban Dioceses: Winners.
Younger Clergy: Losers.
Established Clergy (esp. LGBT&c in the right places): Winners.
Current Church-closing Leadership: Winner.
Denominational Future: Loser.
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