Glenview, IL—According to a statement released by the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, clergy and lay employees of United Methodist churches may soon lose their health care coverage due to some coming provisions in the Affordable Care Act of 2013 (ACA or “Obamacare”). This potential loss of benefits is due to an oversight in the writing of the bill which overlooked clergy and lay employees of churches as potential recipients of special tax credits for the purchase of health insurance.
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.
This story provided by the UMC Board of Pension and Health Benefits. You may see the original story at http://www.gbophb.org/news/releases/pr20130725.asp