Denominational health plan to provide coverage for all clergy, laity

July 14, 2009

The House of Deputies July 15 concurred with action by the House of Bishops on July 12 to adopt Resolution A177, which establishes a mandatory health plan for the Episcopal Church through the church's Medical Trust. The resolution passed on a voice vote.

The plan applies to all domestic dioceses (including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) and congregations, parishes and missions, as well as church organizations mandated by church canons. It would provide parity of coverage to all lay and clergy employees working at least 1,500 hours a year. People employed by institutions such as schools, day-care centers and other diocesan institutions can opt to participate but are not required to do so.

Dioceses will select the plans to be offered from those provided by the Medical Trust. Church Pension Fund officials have estimated this plan could save $134 million in its first six years.

Most of the deputies who spoke on the resolution favored its adoption.

The Rev. John Baldwin (Southern Virginia) said he spoke on behalf of the National Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations, which fully supports the plan. "It boils down to, who do you trust?" Baldwin asked. "In a time when trust is in short supply, the Church Pension Fund has over and over again proven itself to be responsive, faithful and diligent in its work."

Toni Mari Sutliff (Utah) said that without passage, some church employees will face financial difficulties. "Those of you who are not single, those of you who are maybe older and have health problems, the cost of your insurance will go up, and it will be harder for a parish to call you as their clergy if they know their cost is going to be so high," she said.

The Rev. Sandye Wilson (Newark) said, "Recognizing how easily we can go under as churches with the rising costs of health care, I urge the passage of this. It is both pastorally and fiduciarily responsible. The Medical Trust has been incredibly creative on making sure that those who need to opt out can opt out, those who need to opt in can opt in, that the laity is being well cared for. I believe this is good for everybody."

The Rev. Robert Haskell (Albany) and the Rev. Edward Monk (Dallas) expressed concern that this plan would increase costs on small parishes that currently purchase health insurance outside the Medical Trust. Monk said, "I've heard from a number of vicars and rectors in small congregations in our dioceses who say that if this is passed, and they work more than 30 hours a week, they will be out of business or forced to cut other ministry positions. Given that there are a wide variety of options, I find that we should not pass this but rather encourage people to find cost-effective, local solutions."

According to information provided by the Church Pension Fund, of which the Medical Trust is a part, implementation will begin in the fall of 2009, with completion by December 31, 2012. "Waves" of dioceses will be brought into the new system each succeeding year.