West Ohio Conference Health Insurance... What can we do?

In the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church a pastor who is in a full time appointment is to be enrolled in the West Ohio Conference healthcare plan, paid for by the local church and provided through Medical Mutual of Ohio.  The cost to local congregation is approximately 18k (corrected) per year for a family my size, with the family also contributing a portion of the premium as a payroll deduction.  Overall the cost of this policy probably lands somewhere around 19.6k per year.

The reason for the exorbitant cost is the quantity of ‘uninsurable’  or difficult to insure members within this plan.  Given the general health of the group being insured the cost is understandable.  I am certain that within our conference the leadership has done everything within their scope of ability to negotiate with Medical Mutual of Ohio the best possible heath care package for the clergy of our conference.  I doubt that anyone would accuse them of foul play, or a lack of due diligence.  These leaders face a serious dilemma regarding making health care both available and affordable to all full time Methodist clergy in West Ohio.  This post is no way taking a stab at the praiseworthy efforts of those individuals.

The cost of this health care hinges on the more easily insurable members staying in the program.  If the young clergy, and clergy without any pre-existing conditions were to opt out of this plan, the overall cost for the rest of the aging clergy and clergy with pre-existing conditions would sky rocket.  If the ‘insurable’ clergy opt out, the churches with ‘uninsurable’ clergy would long for the days when insurance was a mere $19.6k a year.
With these realities before them, the Conference set in place a rule that if a pastor in a full time appointment decides to opt out of the West Ohio Conference’s health care plan that pastor will never, under any circumstance, be allowed to opt back into the plan.  This of course is a very real threat, and it is a threat that the Conference needed to make in order to keep costs manageable for local congregations.  (It is debatable if $20k per year is manageable).

So that is the background, but what is an insurable young clergy person to do with this?  Healthy insurable clergy placed in the middle of a rock and hard place.

Currently I get my insurance privately and the local church I serve reimburses my premiums (I am a licensed local pastor in full time appointment).  My current insurance is much more comprehensive than the Conference plan, and is over $10k per year cheaper than the conference plan.  The question is should I opt out of the WOC plan and free $10k per year of my church’s budget for ministry, or should I opt into the WOC plan to the tune of an extra $10k per year of expense to my church so that uninsurable clergy can still retain their insurance?  (Note this is all while my wife still retains maternity coverage, at some point we will no longer need that coverage which accounts for 40% of our premium.)

Whether or not to remain in is a valid question.  If, and I know it is a big ‘if’, I stay healthy and insurable, over the next 30 years I will save the local congregations I serve at least $300k.  I also will personally save money, and on top of that have better healthcare.  With those numbers before me it seems a worthy risk.  However, is it unjust to opt out knowing that it will increase the burden on churches that are served by uninsurable pastors?

Of course there is the threat of never being allowed back in the WOC plan if one opts out, but every year the WOC plan becomes less and less desirable anyway, and with the aging body of clergy it is not showing any signs of getting better.  In other words, will there ever really be a reason that I would want to re-enroll in that plan?  Moreover the nature and laws surrounding health care are in such flux right now that the odds of the current rules and healthcare laws still being in place 30 years from now are slim to none.   In light of these realities, the threat of never being allowed back in the WOC plan really is not all that threatening.  Again, the only issue at stake here is the issue of justice.  If you take that out of the equation it is a no brainer and every healthy pastor should find it to be a relatively easy decision to opt out of the WOC plan, and save their churches 10s of thousands of dollars for ministry every year.

I do not dare to call for a mass exodus from the plan, but something needs to be done to make this whole thing more equitable.  If I were to enroll in the WOC plan, my church is effectively getting stuck with an  $10k per year apportionment and the only reason they would pay that money is for the strengthening of the connection by providing all clergy with equal benefits.  The local church gains nothing by this other than piece of mind.  To call this $10k anything other than an apportionment is a mistake, because that is exactly what it is.

If we want this system to be fair, at the very least a portion (preferably the entirety) of the difference of cost between self-insurance and WOC group insurance should be deducted from the local church’s yearly conference apportionments.  (I can hear a collective cringe from conference leadership at this thought.)  Certainly that would make people at the conference offices a little bit nervous, but what else can be done?  The bottom line is that if healthy clergy take the time to look at this plan and look at the future of health care they will come to the same conclusions I am, and they will withdraw from the plan altogether.   If that occurs there is a real mess on everyone’s hands.  At least by giving churches with healthy pastors a significant break on their apportionments, the pastors could still consider it prudent to remain within the conference plan, because ultimately the local church loses nothing by staying enrolled.

Again, I don’t presume to have all the answers on this, and I know that my solution of reduced apportionments doesn’t solve the whole issue, BUT it might keep our young healthy clergy from making the obvious decision to opt out.  The bottom line is that no matter how you cut it, whether you reduce apportionments, or whether pastors start opting out, the churches that are served by uninsurable pastors are going to get short end of the stick.  On the flipside, for the last so many years the churches have been served by insurable pastors are the ones who got the short end.

I am very interested in thoughts of other West Ohio friends surrounding this.  Charge conferences are only 4 or 5 short months away, and at that point we are going to have to nail our colors to the wall one way or another.  Do I stick the church with a $10k bill and commit to the good of uninsurable pastors, or do I self-insure and commit to the good of the community of Delta?

I know this post was outside of the scope of what we normally do here at The Tenth Letter…, and I apologize for taking the time of non-West Ohio Conference pastors and parishioners who may have trudged through this, but this is my only real public venue to air this, so this is where the post had to land.

Update: June 20, 2012
The total cost for insuring my family through the WOC plan is $19.6k with $1.5k being the clergy's responsibility.  The church is responsible for about $18k.  (I corrected those numbers up top since the original posting)

It is important to note that the conference has included an HSA contribution within the scope of this plan which is an important upside to the plan. (Again I still maintain they are doing their best with what they have to work with), but the plan has a deductible much higher than the personal plans healthy clergy can obtain.

Finally, I want to express appreciation for the Conference Treasurer for directly contacting me in response to this blog.


Sovereign Satan... Really?

One of the most disturbing trends in Christianity over the last couple hundred years is the idea of a sovereign devil.  Personally I have never met a single Christian who would vocally affirm that they believe in a sovereign Satan; however I have found countless believers whose praxis affirms what their words would never say.

Allow me to make a few real case studies of how this plays out:

Case #1:
I have served on a number of Chrysalis Flights in my day.  Chrysalis is a 3 day retreat for youth that inculcates them with the Gospel message in a meaningful way.  (This study is not a dis of Chrysalis, I am gladly serving on the next retreat.)  During the process of preparation for a Chrysalis weekend the team meets for 4 to 6 weeks prior to the weekend itself.  At the conclusion of the last team meeting prior to the weekend there will be, without fail, a discussion among team members to be on the lookout for attacks from the ‘evil one’ during the week.  In other words there is this thought that what is going to happen on that weekend is so wonderful that Satan is going to do everything in his power to stop it.  When the team arrives on Thursday night to prepare for the weekend there inevitably is the conversation between some team members about the things Satan allegedly did to try to thwart the weekend.  Usually it is their kid getting sick, having car trouble, or a stressful week at work.  After these exchanges those involved in the discourse typically sit back and marvel at the work the evil did to try to distract them.

Case #1 analysis:
For those involved in these conversations Satan is sovereign over the work place which caused the stress.  Satan is sovereign over the pot hole that sent their care to the shop.  Satan is sovereign over the bacteria that gave their kid a cold… etc.  Can you see it?  Can this really be?  Um… if Satan has that kind of authority, well I might be better off worshiping him, because it appears to me that it is he who is really the one true god.  God forbid that someone acknowledges the real possibility that God himself would orchestrate said events in order to sharpen one’s focus… or *gasp* that those events might be chalked up to the basic course of life in a fallen world over which God sovereignly reigns.

Case #2:
A young woman leaves her fundamentalist home and heads off to a fundamentalist Christian college.  While away at college she decides that this particular college is not right for her because she had a bad experience with the faculty, her classmates, and the curriculum.  The parents of this child grow deeply concerned that ‘the evil one’ has thwarted God’s will for her to go to this college.

Case #2 analysis:
Satan is sovereign over the experiences this girl had with the faculty… or at least is sovereign over her interpretation of those events.  Satan is sovereign over here interactions with her classmates.  Or Satan has directly influenced her perception of the curriculum.  Again, I would be willing to bet my home that the parents of this girl would never vocalize that they believe in a sovereign devil, but their praxis proves that they do.  God forbid that her leaving the college might actually be the will of God (which in this case it likely was.)  Or God forbid that her leaving this college is *gasp* caused by living life in a world effected by the fall.

Case #3:
Barack Obama

Case #3 Analysis
Countless people seem to believe that our government is under the authority of the evil one, and that the presence of certain elected officials proves that.  Um… I do not give a lick where you stand on political issues.  It seems, to these folks, that Satan somehow is sovereign over our entire political process, which means that Satan somehow has the authority to pull voting levers, run political campaigns, make chads hang from ballots, and swap out the internals of Diebold voting machines.  Just stop people, you sound ridiculous.

General Thoughts…
I could lay out countless more cases of this ad nauseum, but these three will suffice.
Every time a person gives credit to the evil one for something they personally do not like, they without knowing are actually affirming that they themselves are gods.  While that sounds bold, it is true.  The definition of evil is “that which displeases God”.  In affirming that all is evil which displeases one’s self, or interferes with one’s perceived notion of what ‘should be’, one is affirming themselves as god.  They make their own thoughts out as though they were God’s thoughts.  It is a dangerous road to walk.

Moreover when a person credits every hiccup in their plans to a work of the evil one, they are without even realizing it, affirming the sovereignty of Satan.  The devil is not sovereign, God is in authority of all your situations, not simply the ones where you feel that you are being moved of the Spirit.  In more charismatic circles there is a heavy emphasis on experiencing the Holy Spirit, but the reality is that God is at work in all, ALL, things and while these people tread through this world looking for the next experience they miss the simple fact that they are in the midst of a constant experience of God’s sovereignty.  Unfortunately they attribute the sovereign work of God in making their tire go flat out to be the work of the evil and by doing so they blaspheme God.  That’s right, it is blasphemy to credit the working of God to be the work of Satan, yet this is common place not only among charismatics, but among most of evangelicalism.

I do offer this one caution, evil things do happen!  Things which displease God actually occur.  God is not pleased with tyranny and war, or with genocide, or abuse, sexual license, etc… however the question we ought to ask is ‘why does God allow that which displeases Him?’  That is a good question, and it is one that I do not have an easy answer to.  Nonetheless I am not, nor should you be willing to chalk up evil to a sovereign Satan.

Remember that Satan is bound, he is limited, and he is NOT the reason you spilled spaghetti sauce on your nice church clothes.