This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Church plan still meets health needs

Officials with Mennonite Church USA’s Corinthian Plan say even with the Affordable Care Act in place, there’s still value in the church having its own health insurance plan.

“We want to encourage churches to continue to participate,” said David Gautsche, a senior vice president at Everence, the stewardship agency that administers the plan. “At the same time, if a church decides the marketplace is a better, cheaper option for them, we don’t want to make them feel guilty or obligated to stay.”

Twenty congregations did not renew their coverage for 2014, and of those, six or so opted to purchase coverage through an ACA exchange plan.

Duncan Smith, interim director of the Corinthian Plan, said that wasn’t a cause for concern. (See also: “Corinthian Plan Directors Transition.”)

“At this point TCP is in a very strong position,” he said.

In general, Gautsche said, churches maintain health-care plans for the same reasons as other employers.

“If you’re an employer and the people you’re trying to hire are highly skilled and it’s a competitive job market, then you really need to offer a pretty good benefit package to get people to work for you,” he said.

In its fourth year, the Corinthian Plan covers pastors and staff members in 401 congregations and employees of MC USA agencies, schools and camps. It represents about 70 percent of MC USA congregations with eligible employees.

MC USA created the plan in response to a 2007 delegate resolution calling for providing all pastors with basic health coverage — because too many pastors were uninsured.

Mutual aid is one reason congregations may see sticking with the plan as a mission decision, Gautsche said.

“There’s positives in sharing the risk across the church — creating a healthy pool of people and keeping costs down for churches,” he said.

Smith said congregations are also willing to stick with the plan because it offers a good package of health coverage, mutual aid support and wellness benefits. Participation in the plan’s wellness program is growing.

“Perhaps the key for participation is that it is hard to quantify or put a price tag on community,” he said. “For instance, large congregations understand that their participation helps other congregations carry health coverage, and those receiving subsidies experience this as being a valued part of the MC USA community.”

Since the plan’s inception, participating congregations have contributed more than $2 million to its mutual care component — the Fair Balance Fund — which helps smaller congregations participate in the plan. Currently 51 congregations are receiving subsidies totaling just under $450,000 a year.

Continuing a niche

Smith, Gautsche and Keith Harder — who oversaw the project from its beginning and recently retired — all noted that even with the ACA there are still people without access to coverage due to their income level.

ACA originally required all states to expand Medicaid coverage to the level where the federal government offers tax subsidies. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down that requirement. Some states are choosing not to expand Medicaid or have not yet decided.

In the Corinthian Plan, eligibility is based on hours of paid work, not on income. A bivocational pastor, for example, who might not be eligible for other plans is covered by the Corinthian Plan.

“We think there will continue to be a niche for TCP until some of those things get worked out,” Harder said in a press release. “Obviously we need to have enough congregations participating to make it viable.”

The number of 400 participating congregations has proven to be a sustainable level, Harder said. But the number of congregations is not as important as the risk profiles of the members.

“Our numbers indicate that the risk we have right now is manageable and sustainable, and the board is watching that carefully,” he said.

While Everence administers the Corinthian Plan, claims are paid by Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Contributing: Annette Brill Berg­stresser of Mennonite Church USA.

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