Meanwhile, GuideStone Financial Resources continues working toward applying the provisions of the law, while remaining an active part of a coalition of large and historic denominational church health plan providers advocating on behalf of ministers and other participants served by church plans, said GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins.
"We are continuing our efforts to aggressively pursue legislative and regulatory relief. We recognize that many religious organizations, including some in our own Baptist family, have chosen to pursue litigation to challenge aspects of the law," referencing various lawsuits which challenge components of the law, including the abortion/contraceptive mandate, which requires religious organizations to cover plans that cover abortion-causing drugs. "At this time, GuideStone has chosen to work with legislators and regulators to address the concerns of church health plans, but we are closely monitoring the lawsuits as they make their way through the court system. We fully support these lawsuits and share the foundational commitment to safeguard religious liberty. Since we serve employers and participants throughout the country, we are focused on securing a resolution that would apply nationwide."
Church health plans have existed for more than a century but were left out of the formulation of the health care law. Among the issues to be addressed with regulators and Congress is the issue of premium credit assistance for plan participants. At this point, participants in self-funded church plans, like those offered by GuideStone and other major denominations, are not eligible for this assistance that will become available to participants in secular plans in 2014.
Much of the buzz around the health care reform law centers on 2014. That remains a pivotal year; various requirements do not become effective until then, so many fixes or legislative changes remain options prior to that.
"As GuideStone looks at benefits, coverages and pricing for 2014 and beyond, we will continue to make full use of current and future opportunities to push for resolution of these issues before 2014," Hawkins said. "As the years unfold before us, we will press on in our pro-active approach of seeking fairness for ministers and others who need the ability to participate in a nationwide plan that respects their biblical convictions."
GuideStone has been at the forefront of offering values-focused health plans with benefits that put participants first. Before the law was authored, GuideStone's standard health plans already provided many of the provisions that are touted as successes by the law's supporters. For example, GuideStone's standard health plans did not impose lifetime or annual limits and already were providing comprehensive coverage for preventive care services prior to 2010. Additionally, unlike some secular health plan providers, GuideStone never terminated a participant's health coverage for excessive claims.
In 2010, GuideStone was among the earliest health plan providers to begin covering preventive care services at 100 percent (not subject to a deductible, and with no co-pay). GuideStone also offered the ability to cover children as dependents up to age 26 and extended no pre-existing condition limitations on children under age 19.
Roy Hayhurst is the senior manager of editorial services at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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