Health insurance, Connectional Table proposals among legislation approved
PEORIA – Lay and clergy members approved a proposal to change clergy health insurance and a new, streamlined Connectional Table during the 2014 Annual Conference session.
The measure, recommended by the Conference Board of Pensions, would move active clergy covered by the conference’s self-insured plan to purchasing insurance from the exchanges that are a part of the Affordable Care Act.
IGRC Director of Administrative Services Rick Van Giesen said he would be holding District meetings in each of the conference’s 10 districts to assist pastors with understanding enrollment decisions. Those meetings will be scheduled for the early fall since Open Enrollment for the exchanges for 2015 will be Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, 2014.
The proposal, which was approved 735-106, also calls for a $12,000 health insurance allowance to be added to full-time clergy compensation packages by their congregations. Currently, local congregations pay $17,520 per full-time pastor for insurance coverage, while pastors pay $65 per month for individual coverage and $320 per month for spousal coverage. The actual cost to the pastor purchasing insurance would depend upon the plan which the pastor chooses.
Most of the floor discussion centered around the tax issues such a change will create. Currently, the $17,520 assessment is tax-free; the $12,000 housing allowance will be taxable because the Affordable Care Act doesn’t allow it to be tax-free. Clergy also lose the ability to put aside pre-tax dollars to fund a flexible spending account since such an account requires an employer to have its own health insurance plan.
In 2013, health care costs exceeded revenue from the local church assessment and premiums by $1.5 million. As a means of addressing the shortfall and to provide a delay into moving to a new place, the Conference approved $500 deductibles for in-network expenses and $1,000 for out-of-network providers; additional deductibles on prescription drugs and a $1,500 in-network family deductible and $3,000 for the family out-of-network deductible.
For pastors, the impact is mixed. Pastors with lower than average taxable income will eligible for tax credits which will offset some if not all of the additional tax liability. Pastors with high compensation and/or with spouses with high compensation, insurance will be affordable but will not qualify for tax credits. Pastors will also have the option of enrolling on a spouse’s health insurance plan if one is provided. Local churches being served by full-time pastors have the option, but are not required to provide more than $12,000 for the health insurance allowance.
Early retirees will not be paying the $18,540 (clergy and spouse) to the Conference prior to becoming Medicare-eligible. They will simply continue with their exchange plans. Retirees past the age of 65 are not affected by the change as Medicare is already primary.
Conference members also approved a standing rule that affects the composition of the Connectional Table. The proposal, as amended, was approved 809-25.
One amendment called for the approved legislation to take effect July 1, instead of Jan. 1, 2015, while the other amendment was more editorial in nature.
The new Connectional Table is comprised of 21 voting members – 19 which are mandated by The Book of Discipline (2012) and two elected at-large. In addition to the voting members, the Executive Assistant to the Bishop, Co-Deans of the Cabinet, Director of Connectional Ministries, Director of Communications and the Director of Finance and Administration have voice but no vote.
The new streamlined Connectional Table will replace a Connectional Table that numbered more than 100, which made it difficult to function. The former Connectional Table requested a smaller size and better clarity of purpose and objectives at its last meeting. The new model is fashioned after a local church Administrative Council which makes its structure more understandable and places mission, ministry and finance at the same table.
In other action, the Conference:
- Approved a $12,336,929 budget for 2015 – a 0.81 percent increase. The proposal includes restoring $1,500 for Youth Leadership Development and Young Adult Ministry, which had been reduced in the Equipping and Connecting Team budget.
- Approved several standing rules, that includes policies on the Bishop’s Resource Team, Safe Sanctuaries and Sex Offender boundaries. A policy on clergy sexual misconduct was also approved.
- A 2 percent increase in past service funding for pre-1982 service years was approved as part of the Conference Board of Pensions report. The service rate for 2015 will now be $717 per service year – up from $702 in 2014.
- Approved an application for recognizing McKendree University as a Conference historic site, which will make it eligible to be recognized as a United Methodist historic site. McKendree, founded in 1828, is the oldest and first permanent college in the United States with continuous ties to The United Methodist Church.
- Approved the closing of Bloomington Grace UMC, Hurst UMC and Peoria Madison Ave. UMC’s as part of the Trustees report. Bloomington Grace and Hurst have already closed; Peoria Madison Ave. UMC will close Aug. 1.
- A resolution regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and issues regarding divestment and boycott was referred to the Conference Board of Church and Society.
- A resolution commending the conference to a year of fasting, prayer and study regarding Response to Same Gender weddings was amended and approved, 427-298.
- A resolution “Living Into Inclusiveness” which called for the Committee on Nominations to seek self-proclaimed “out” gay men and lesbian representation on all Conference committees and agencies was referred to the Connectional Table, 357-335.
- A resolution “Humane Treatment to Farm Animals” was defeated, 180-532.