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MY WORD: Churches need help with health-care changes

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By Rod Miller

Health-care exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act take effect Jan. 1 of next year, but a key group will be left out of important premium tax credits if a bill introduced last week in the Senate isn’t enacted.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the Church Health Plan Act of 2013 to allow low- and modest-income church workers in qualified church health plans to receive the same premium tax credits that low- and modest-income workers in exchange health plans will receive. Nationwide, more than 1 million ministers and other church workers are covered by church health plans.

The bill has the backing of many large and historic denominations with their own church health plans for clergy, including the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. That denomination’s benefits group, Dallas-based GuideStone Financial Resources, has offered its church health plan for more than 50 years.

“Church health plans and the people served by them were disregarded in the creation of ObamaCare,” said O.S. Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of GuideStone. “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.”

James Hill, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Shelby County, is among the bill’s supporters.

“It’s important that all health plans have a level playing field,” Hill said. “Church health plans offer unique benefits that meet the requirements of the health care law, but with an eye toward the unique needs of pastors.”

Supporters face an uphill climb in the Senate.

“We have heard from members of Congress that ‘politics’ makes this bill difficult to pass,” Hill said. “The clergy in this country can’t wait until one party or the other controls both the Congress and the White House. We need to fix this problem quickly.”

Hawkins echoed that sentiment.

“Some Republicans in the Senate argue the best way to fix this problem is to repeal ObamaCare,” he said. “Many of the pastors and others we serve would agree. However, the Democrats control the White House and the Senate and repeal is not an option in the short term. We were asked to wait until the 2012 election. Then we were asked to wait until the Supreme Court decision. Time has run out on our pastors and churches. It is now time for our Republican friends to put our pastors over their politics. I recognize that the Republicans didn’t create this problem, but we hope that all members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, join together to show their support for churches and clergy. It is time to fix this problem. The churches and the clergy should not be held hostage to election politics.”

According to GuideStone, clergy from almost three dozen denominations are supporting the effort to enact the Church Health Plan Act.

 

Rod Miller of GuideStone Financial Resources, can be reached at 214-720-2142 or Rod.Miller@GuideStone.org.