Denominationally sponsored health insurance plan approved in principle for Brethren in Christ churches

GRANTHAM, Pa. (July 17, 2008) – At a time when many denominations have given up on providing a health insurance plan for pastors and other church employees, the Brethren in Christ Church is moving in the opposite direction. At the church’s 2008 General Conference, held June 27 to 30 in Richmond Hill, Ontario, a recommendation to adopt in principle re-introducing a denominationally sponsored health plan received an overwhelming positive response, with 80 percent of delegates voting in the affirmative.

In the almost three years since the BIC Brotherhood Health Plan was discontinued due to declining participation, U.S. churches and/or pastors have been on their own in securing health insurance. “Our previous plan fell victim to what the insurance industry refers to as ‘adverse selection.’ As churches with healthy staff opted out of the Brotherhood Plan for cheaper coverage elsewhere, we were left with a pool of pastors who were older or ill. Premiums skyrocketed, and even more churches looked elsewhere for coverage. In the end, we simply couldn’t sustain the group that was left,” Rebekah Basinger, executive director of congregational relations, explains.

The recommendation before the General Conference included the “strong expectation” of participation by all eligible churches without a valid waiver (pastor employed less than 24 hours per week, pastor receives insurance through spouse, or pastor is on Medicare). “The vote tells us that pastors and other congregational leaders understand that the long term success of the plan depends upon making participation mandatory,” Basinger says.

In the year leading up to the conference vote, a planning team looked at numerous carriers and insurance options and, in the end, selected a Highmark Blue Shield plan. “We appreciate the assistance and expertise provided by Douglas Denlinger and Keith Sider of Keystone Financial Associates, as well as staff from Mennonite Mutual Aid, in helping us find a plan that is flexible enough to meet the needs of a national constituency. We hope that people will trust the process and the hundreds of hours that went into the decision,” Basinger states.

The enrollment period for the new BIC health plan opens in early August and continues through mid-October, with coverage to begin in January 2009. As Basinger notes, the next three months are critical as denominational representatives work with congregational leaders, answering questions, and encouraging participation. “The vote at conference was great, but the real work begins now, one church at a time,” she states. “We believe we are doing what is right for our pastors and other church workers, and so we move forward, trusting the outcome to God.”