Press Release: Church Health Plan Act of 2013—a bill to fix the Affordable Care Act

For Immediate Release
July 25, 2013

Contact: M. Colette Nies, Managing Director, Communications
(847) 866-4296 or cnies@gbophb.org

Glenview, IL—Key features of the Affordable Care Act begin in a few months, but unless Congress acts soon, clergy and lay employees of churches may soon lose their health care coverage. In the confusion and political drama accompanying the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”), Congress overlooked the clergy and lay employees of churches.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the Church Health Plan Act of 2013 to fix this problem. The Affordable Care Act provides low and moderate income individuals and families with tax credits to cover the cost of commercial health insurance plans. The Pryor-Coons bill would extend the same tax benefits available to the general public to clergy and church employees receiving coverage from church health plans. Nationwide, more than 1 million clergy and church employees are covered by church health plans.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is among the largest Protestant denominations in the U.S. Barbara A. Boigegrain, chief executive of the UMC pension and health benefits board, observed, “The majority of pastors and church workers are among the country’s low-to-moderate income level workers. They deserve to receive the full tax benefit under the law that corporate workers at small businesses will receive to help offset the cost of health insurance premiums or of health care costs. In the rush to establish a health care system that works for everyone, churches were overlooked. We ask our congressional leaders to represent all workers in the country, as they consider and vote on this legislation.”

Reverend George E. Rook, pastor of Grand Avenue United Methodist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is among the bill’s supporters. He noted, “Church health plans are important because they reflect our unique needs. In particular, this bill would help ease some of the problems that might arise for The United Methodist Church under the Affordable Care Act. Clergy in our denomination move from church to church frequently, so challenges could arise for us where one church would be in the regional conference’s church plan and another church would rely on the exchanges. I cannot think of any reason members of Congress would vote against this bill.”

The bill has the backing of many large and historic denominations including the Southern Baptist Convention, also among the largest Protestant denominations. The Southern Baptist plan (GuideStone) has provided pastors with health care benefits for more than 50 years.

GuideStone president and chief executive officer, O.S. Hawkins, said, “This bill will go a long way to righting that mistake. It won’t cost the government one penny more; it simply gives churches and pastors the same benefits available to other small businesses and employees. We’re asking for senators to put pastors over politics.”

Supporters face an uphill battle in the Senate

UMC Reverend Rook went on to say, “Churches have heard from members of Congress that ‘politics’ makes this bill difficult to pass. The clergy in this country can’t wait until one party or the other controls both the Congress and the White House. Churches need this concern fixed quickly.”

Ms. Boigegrain further emphasized, “From our standpoint this is not, nor should it ever become, a political issue. We sincerely hope our legislators—Democrat and Republican alike—can work together to amend this health care coverage oversight and provide bi-partisan support to give health care parity to over 1 million preachers, church lay workers and their families.”

According to the UMC Board of Pension and Health Benefits, clergy from more than 38 denominations are supporting the effort to enact the Church Health Plan Act of 2013.

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About the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of The United Methodist Church

The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB) is a not-for-profit administrative agency of The United Methodist Church, responsible for the general supervision and administration of the retirement, health and welfare benefit plans, programs and funds for more than 91,000 clergy and lay employees of the Church.

GBPHB is the largest faith-based pension fund in the United States and ranks among the top 100 pension funds in the country. As a socially responsible investor, GBPHB is actively involved in shareholder advocacy, proxy voting, portfolio screening and community investing.

 

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