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Clergy health care remains hot topic at conference event (July 7, 2004)

Clergy health care remains hot topic at conference event (July 7, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Clergy health care remains hot topic at conference event

July 7, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0105}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz,** Tita Parham** and Michael Wacht

LAKELAND — The church, like millions of Americans and corporations, is not immune to the escalating costs of health care. And in the Florida Conference clergy enrolled in the conference health insurance plan are being asked to assume greater responsibility for their health-care costs.

"The cost of health care is going up every year, and the conference can't afford to carry anyone for free anymore," Boyd Acklin said. Acklin is the conference's assistant treasurer of administration and human resources and oversees the daily management of the clergy health-care program.

DAYTONA BEACH  Delegates to the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event June 3-6 here voted on a number of proposals, including one to increase clergy members' financial responsibility for their health-care costs. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #04-0038.

Members of the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event passed a new health-care cost-sharing plan, amending a proposal presented by the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits (CBPHB).

Beginning in 2005, clergy and churches will share the total cost of health insurance. All clergy will pay 16 percent of the total and all churches will pay 84 percent. Those percentages will shift by one percent each year until 2009 when clergy will pay 20 percent and churches 80 percent.

"We want to do it [cost sharing] as fairly as possible, and 80/20 is a better ratio than a lot of companies are offering," Acklin said.

The clergy portion of the health insurance bill will be divided among single clergy and those with one or more dependent. In 2005 the 110 single clergy will evenly divide approximately 1.22 percent of the conference's total health insurance premium. Clergy with dependents will evenly divide approximately 14.78 percent of the total premium. Each church will pay an equal share of the 84 percent.

"That's based on 2004 numbers," Acklin said, adding those numbers may change during the November enrollment period. He also said exact amounts that clergy and churches will pay will not be available until later in the year.

The Florida Conference will not offer Cigna insurance in 2005. Clergy will instead have a choice between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.

The original proposal presented by the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits (CBPHB) caused lengthy debate among delegates, resulting in amendments that decreased the recommended clergy cost.

CBPHB  proposed a shift from 84/16 cost sharing in 2005 to 75/25 in 2009.

The board also proposed continuing the current three-tiered approach, with different amounts for single clergy, clergy with one dependent and clergy with more than one dependent. According to the board's proposal clergy without dependents would pay a base percentage, clergy with one dependent would pay twice that percentage, and clergy with more than one dependent would pay 3.2 times the base.

The Rev. Robert Bushong, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Winter Park, offered an amendment reducing each year's recommended base clergy cost so that by 2009 the base cost to clergy would be 20 percent, with churches paying 80 percent. The amendment also called for the clergy structure to become two-tiered, with single clergy paying one amount and all clergy with dependents paying a greater, but equal, amount, regardless of the number of dependents.

The amendment also recommended establishing a fund within the Preacher's Relief Board to assist clergy with insurance costs. The fund would be administered by the board and supported by donations from individuals and churches.

The proposal as amended passed.

During the debate before voting Janet Chilcote, a lay delegate from the Orlando District and a clergy spouse, spoke from the floor on the proposal's impact on children in clergy families.

"The way it stands now, the single parent with a child is paying more than they were to begin with," she said. "At the recent Orlando District Children's Summit we were given a question to apply to all decisions we make in church and the community, and that is to simply ask, 'Is it good for the children?' Our clergy children here do not have a voice to speak, and I want to speak for them. If all of us share the burden together it's not that someone is being penalized, but we're all saying, 'Yes, we want to give on the behalf of the children of our clergy...' "

The Rev. Keith Vickery, campus minister at the University of South Florida, asked about the possibility of younger clergy moving out of the current system and securing their own health insurance. As a 32-year-old with an 8-month-old child and wife he said conference health insurance is expensive.

Vickery said a portion of a minister's orders is "do no harm," and he considers it harmful that a tenth of his program budget is going toward health care.

After the annual conference event the Rev. David Juliano, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Orlando, said the proposal prompted him to make his first speech on the floor of annual conference.

"I fretted over what to say," he said. "I'm not one of those people who every year feel they have to say something at annual conference, but I have some heartfelt feelings on this issue. The proposal places the burden on those who can least afford it."

Juliano, who has three young children, including 5-year-old twins, one with cerebral palsy, said the rising cost of health care has taken a large financial toll on his family. He said it has become unreasonable for him to pay for his family's medical care.

The amount his church pays for health care, coupled with his out-of-pocket expenses, equals about $1,000 a month. He said his co-payment is $30 per doctor visit and $50 per visit to see a specialist.

When the children were recently scheduled for their regular eye examination Juliano was forced to cancel the appointment because he couldn't afford the $150 in co-payment fees. The doctor's office agreed to work with Juliano and billed him in installments. Juliano said he has sought and received assistance from the Preacher's Relief Board.

"It's not right; it's not fair. It's unreasonable to pay $1,000 a month and not be able to use it," he said. "As a father, as a parent, I can't provide for my family."

Bushong said he felt led to make the amendment as "a statement we're all in this together" as part of the connectional system. He said in the past the clergy family was fully covered, but health care has become more and more expensive, and it's more equitable that clergy share in health-care costs.

"I see it as a justice issue," he said.

For more information on the conference health insurance plan contact Acklin at 1-800-282-8011, extension 173 or

To view daily photos of the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event's activities and business visit


This article relates to the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service. Parham is editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.