I just got a nice mailing from the Church Pension Fund regarding the proposed legislation that would create a single national health plan for Episcopal Church employees. As of the moment each diocese (and in some places each parish) makes their own arrangements. In some cases the diocese decides to use the health insurance plans offered by the Pension Group. That’s what we do here in Arizona. In other cases dioceses make their own arrangements with insurance companies or encourage their parishes to do the best they can do on their own. That was my experience in my previous three dioceses.
The upshot of the patchwork system is that the health care benefits one is offered aren’t always exactly the same. It’s not been a real issue for us yet, but I imagine it could be. I have noticed that our vision and dental plans are different here in Phoenix than they were in the Diocese of Bethlehem. (They’re not as good here where we are enrolled in the national plan as they were in Bethlehem where we were enrolled in the state Chamber of Commerce plan.)
The downside though of finding your best deal on your own is that someone is going to have to be the plan administrator. In the case of my last parish, that someone was our assistant priest because she had the most experience of anyone on the staff in dealing with such situations. If it hadn’t been for her in a couple of insurance snafu situations I don’t know what we would have done. I certainly couldn’t have done what she managed to do – and that was true for most of the other parishes in the diocese. We had it pretty good because we had Mother Laura. Other places that didn’t have her had the experience of routine coverage being denied and claims being denied without the tenacious Mother Laura to make their insurance companies back down.
So, in principle, I am in favor of the national plan resolutions. It would create a single experienced advocate office for those of us needing help navigating the corridors of the insurance mess. It would give standard benefits to all the clergy across the country. And it costs, apparently, a little bit less.
But it’s only a little bit less. For us in Arizona, according the nice mailing I mentioned above, we’re looking at about 3% savings or so. That’s nice. But it’s not that big a deal for most of us.
What I don’t have is a sense of whether or not our health insurance is going to increase at the same rate it has been increasing. It’s now something like 20k to insure a family. That’s a real stretch for a small parish trying to hire a priest when you add that to salary, housing and pension.
The other thing is the savings are calculated on the basis of just the clergy who are presently enrolled. But, if the legislation passes as written, that group is going to be joined by a group of full-time lay employees who will now be mandated by canon to receive coverage comparable to what the clergy receive. That’s not a change for us here at the Cathedral in Phoenix since that’s already the case. But it will be a huge stretch for a number of parishes that are not now making that available. Suddenly they may be looking at something between an additional 10k to 20k cost per full-time employee.
In a season of budgetary pressure, that may be a serious issue for a number of parishes already running in the red.
I wish the nice mailing told us how much the bottom line bill would increase if the new lay employee coverage was factored in. It might not be too much. It might be much more than I think. I just wish I knew that before I vote on the resolutions in the coming weeks.