DALLAS (BP) -- For 95 years, GuideStone has provided financial and health benefits to pastors, ministers and employees of church and church-related organizations such as universities, seminaries, hospitals and other ministry-focused organizations. When added up across all denominations, more than 1 million pastors and others serving those organizations receive health care coverage through church health plans like those made available by GuideStone.
Those pastors, ministers and employees, as well as their families, were disregarded and put at a disadvantage when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010. Beginning in 2014, premium tax credits will be made available to eligible individuals who purchase their health coverage from commercial health care exchanges but those credits will not be available to pastors and others who get their health care coverage from church health plans.
The Church Health Plan Act, S.B. 1164, introduced in the Senate, will provide fairness for church health plans that cover ministers and others serving churches and ministry organizations. GuideStone strongly supports the efforts of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Mark Pryor, D.-Ark., and Sen. Christopher Coons, D.-Del., and urges both Democratic and Republican senators alike to ensure its swift passage.
Recognizing the economic realities facing Washington, the bill does not add to the cost of health care reform's overall tab. It simply ensures that a benefit promised to millions of Americans is available to pastors and other church staff members. GuideStone believes pastors should not have to choose between tax credits available to other Americans and proven health care plans designed with the unique needs of ministers and other church employees in mind.
GuideStone is encouraging pastors and other concerned individuals to contact their senators and urge them to join as co-sponsors and work together for the sake of pastors and others in ministry.
The Church Health Plan Act enables pastors and others who receive their coverage through church health plans to access the same premium tax credits provided to participants in secular health plans.
"For many months GuideStone has been advocating on multiple avenues related to health care reform, and we continue to do so," said O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone. "Now, Congress stands poised to provide fair treatment for church health care plans. If Congress fails to act, they will be disadvantaging church plans as compared to commercial, secular plans."
Church health plans have a robust legacy of providing health care benefits to pastors and others employed by ministry organizations. Many of these health plans date back well over a century. Church health plans offer many unique features, among them portability, which allows ministers to take their coverage with them as they move to different places of service.
Long before federal mandates, GuideStone's church health plans, which serve more than 60,000 Southern Baptists, already were providing plans without annual limits and refraining from cancellation of coverage based on high or frequent claims. Additionally, church health plans are structured in a manner that is consistent with each church's polity and convictions regarding health coverage.
Many who share conservative political values have been outspoken about the need to repeal the health care reform law. While that remains an ultimate goal for many, the Church Health Plan Act will help level the playing field immediately, while repeal efforts continue over the coming years.
"This is a matter that deserves prompt attention," Hawkins said. "Failure by Congress to act is an unthinkable affront to the vital and historic role of church health plans and, as a practical matter, places a disproportionate financial burden on many pastors and others in ministry who have relatively low household incomes. This is wholly unwarranted. Church health plans have been consistently competitive with private insurers and have existed in their current form for years and years. They have met the needs of their constituents in a manner that reflects their core convictions."
If Congress chooses not to act, church health plans will find themselves in an untenable and unfair position within the health care marketplace. GuideStone is diligently preparing for the full effect of the implementation of President Obama's health care reform in 2014 and will be there to serve its participants as has been the case for so many years. However, GuideStone joins with other church health plans in urging enactment of the Church Health Plan Act so church health plans will be allowed to continue and compete as health care reform unfolds in future years.
"As we look at the changes that will begin to take hold in 2014, now is an important time to speak up for pastors and church plans," Hawkins said. "We have said repeatedly that we consider it a sacred privilege and serious responsibility to protect and preserve church health plans that are uniquely designed for pastors and others in faithful service.
"We continue to advocate for His servants and urge Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike to pass this bill. We must always put pastors above politics."
GuideStone has a committed team of employees and industry experts working through every aspect of the health care reform law to ensure that its health plans offered for the 2014 plan year are competitively priced and appropriately structured. Additionally, as has been the case for many years, GuideStone is at the forefront of a coalition of other church health plans, making known to Congress and regulators the needs of ministers and other church employees who are served by church health plans. For more information on the Church Health Plan Act of 2013, and GuideStone's advocacy efforts on behalf of pastors, visit www.FairnessForPastors.org.
Roy Hayhurst is senior manager of editorial services at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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