What is the Wisconsin Conference Shared Cost Health Insurance Program?
For more than 30 years the Wisconsin Conference has provided a health insurance program in which larger churches pay a premium for their health insurance coverage in order that smaller congregations may have a discount on premiums that makes health coverage for their pastors affordable. In addition, the program allows the Conference to pay approximately 25% of the cost of supplemental coverage for retired clergy and widows.
Who provides the coverage? The coverage is provided through a self-insurance program of the Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ.
How is the Wisconsin Conference program different?
The coverage’s are exactly the same as the national plan. The difference comes in the billing and the rates. Whereas in other Conferences, the Pension Boards bill each individual congregation, in Wisconsin the Pension Boards provide one bill to the Conference. The Conference then creates the shared cost rates for our churches, and the billing goes out from our De Forest office.
How are rates determined?
Each year, after receiving the rates for all Wisconsin churches from the Pension Boards, the business office of the Conference creates proposed rates for Wisconsin Conference Churches, including two components, a church share (per capita) that is an annual amount based on membership and a clergy share that is a quarterly payment for all clergy covered by the plan.
Who sets the rates?
The rates are established by the Wisconsin Conference Insurance Committee and then are approved by the Wisconsin Conference Board of Directors prior to being sent to churches.
How do Wisconsin costs compare?
Compared to most Conferences, the Wisconsin Conference rates are relatively low. For smaller membership churches, rates are extremely low by comparison to other plans.
I’ve heard of the “church share (per capita) and the “clergy share”. What do these mean?
As mentioned above, there are two components to the Wisconsin Conference billing. The church share (per capita) is an annual amount that is based on membership. Churches pay this amount whether they have a pastor covered through the program or not. A portion of the per capita is what allows for the shared cost and benevolent aspects of our program. There is also a quarterly amount called the clergy share which churches pay for all clergy who are covered by the plan.
How many churches participate in the Wisconsin Conference program?
209 churches currently participate, and 84% of our clergy are covered in the program. This compares to 42% participation in the program nationwide, a strong indication of how successful the shared cost program has been.
Why do you recommend that churches continue to offer Plan A for their pastors, when Plans B or C could reduce costs?
We commend the Pension Boards for seeking to deal with rising health care costs. We understand that the rising costs are a national issue and not the responsibility of the Pension Boards. Having said that, we believe that Plan A offers superior coverage and that, with the shared cost provisions of our plan, many churches will find that they are already paying rates comparable to Plan B or C but receiving Plan A coverage.
In addition, we believe that the cost savings for Plans B and C are not proportional to the reductions in coverage, particularly in the area of deductibles and total yearly out-of- pocket expenses. We are also concerned that the very successful shared cost program we have established over many years will be difficult to continue if churches go to Plans B and C.
We believe there is value in the covenant program we have. We are grateful to the larger churches who make it possible, and who want to maintain it and strengthen it in these difficult times of rapidly increasing costs.
I have a local agent who can get our pastor coverage for far less than your plan. Why shouldn’t we take it?
The first response to this question is that if you choose another coverage for your pastor, that pastor may not be able to return to the program of the Pension Boards in the future, and their insurance may not be “portable” to another carrier, if they should move.
More importantly, if they move to an individual policy and no longer are part of a group, and they have a significant and chronic health problem, their rates may increase dramatically. This does not happen in a group plan.
We have one example of a church that chose to take a lower cost plan for their pastor and to give the pastor the savings in salary. The plan cost $6000 instead of the $9000 that the Pension Boards program cost. However, this pastor had a family member with dramatic health problems and within two years the new plan’s cost was $18,000 per year. This pastor could not get back into the group plan and the church was now stuck paying the higher cost and the pastor was unable to move, because no new church would take on these costs.
In another sense participating in the Wisconsin Conference program means that churches are part of a covenantal effort.
Didn’t the Wisconsin Conference once provide coverage for our pastors through a different carrier? Why can’t we leave the Pension Boards program and have our own group again?
For many years the Pension Boards health insurance program was reluctant to include the Wisconsin Conference group with our shared cost provisions. In 1993, the Pension Boards agreed to the different billing procedures for the Wisconsin Conference program, and we joined their program.
Prior to that, we had been covered through Blue Cross/Blue Shield and WPS. We made the change to the Pension Boards program, because it had more consistent price increases, and we could not be dropped from the program. We also joined, because we wanted to help strengthen our national program.
In the past two years, primarily because of the inability of the Pension Boards to provide a “preferred provider” to serve Wisconsin, and the potential penalty in co-payments and deductibles when our members do not use the preferred provider network, we shopped our group to other providers. We have not found any carriers who are interested in writing a group plan for our group. This is due primarily to the age of our group, averaging about 54 years of age.
When can we anticipate our Wisconsin rates, and why is this later than in the past?
Wisconsin Conference business office will not receive rates for our churches until September 16 from the Pension Boards, our business office will then need to create an entirely new computer program to help our Insurance Committee determine rates. The proposed rates will then need to be given to our Board of Directors for their approval.
We expect to mail rates to churches on September 30. We will post these rates on the website for all churches on this date and follow up with a letter.
Why not let go of the WI plan and just have the Pension Boards bill each church like in the rest of the UCC?
It is certainly possible that we may have to do this some day, but there are many good reasons not to take this approach. For our smaller churches, it would mean immediate and significant increases for their insurance. Undoubtedly many of them would leave the program and find independent insurers, with the problems we mentioned above. Of course some of our larger churches might see a reduction in their costs, but in most cases, these reductions would not be large.
We would also not be able to do some of the things we currently do, or we would need to look to churches to increase mission giving for us to provide things like the subsidies to retirees and widows and some additional assistance that we are able to provide from insurance reserves.
We also would not be able to do things like we did three years ago when the Pension Boards gave us a rate increase of 22% but we only passed along an increase of 18% to our churches. The covenantal benefits would disappear or have to be shifted to being funded by OCWM giving.
What should we do if we need help?
If you have specific questions about your church’s billing, please contact our Finance Director, Vicki Graff, at 608-846-7880. If you have other questions, please contact your Associate Conference Minister.
You may also utilize the Pension Boards website at www.Pbucc.org or call the Health Plans office at 1-800-642-6543.
We want to keep our Wisconsin Conference Share Cost Health program strong, but we also want to help churches make the best decision about coverage for their pastors and employees.