The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a $28.6 million deficit in its healthcare plan.
Let me be clear that I understand our Board of Pensions is stuck between a rock and a hard place, with rising healthcare costs far outpacing dues increases. They have a difficult decision. I am also clear that all members should expect to make some sacrifices, including my family.
But for the first time, there are proposals that could result in plan members sharing the dues cost of their healthcare coverage. Some would argue that this is a logical step, as many employers dropped full dependent coverage in the 1970s. However, in this case, not everyone is going to be making an equal sacrifice.
If this is enacted, dependent coverage would be paid by the employing organization, the plan member, or a combination of the two. John Hamm, chair of the BOP’s Healthcare Committee, was willing to note that “there will be blood,” as some employers pass on all or part of the cost of optional spouse and dependent coverage to plan members. The Vice-President for Benefits, Patricia Haines, acknowledges that, under this proposal regarding dependents, “the historically understood community nature and call neutrality of the plan” are dramatically impacted. The community nature of the current medical plan means that higher-paying employers assist lower paying employers through percentage dues. Call neutrality means that all plan members and family members must be covered by employers, no matter how large the family.
Therefore, dropping dependents from healthcare is a regressive policy, meaning that it will impact small churches and young clergy members at a disproportional rate. Is that fair? Is that how we want to do business?
Let’s think for a moment about the term, dependent. This person needs you. You are responsible for their care. So here’s the thing: My wife and I are going to do everything and anything to take care of our son. Even though we feel called to our jobs, the salaries from a solo pastor for a rural church and a three-quarter time campus minister may not provide enough coverage for our family. And it is very likely that our employers would not be able to handle these costs either. Now, that would put us between a rock and a hard place, wouldn’t it?
Reading back over this post, I wonder if contextualizing the debate between my career and my family might smack of self-righteous entitlement. Am I too proud, too arrogant? Again, should I be willing to make sacrifices? Absolutely. But should I be penalized exponentially more than my more well-established, settled, experienced, and financially successful colleagues? Should smaller churches, which already lose pastors at an incredibly high rate, be dealt yet another obstacle in paying their salaries? Should non-parish ministries, like campus chaplains, and the populations they serve continue to be marginalized?
$28.6 million dollars is a number that requires change. But I believe that the Board of Pensions must find another way to address the deficit. If you agree or even suspect that I might have raised some valid questions, I would encourage you to sign this petition against dropping coverage for dependents.