Monday, September 2, 2013
Counting the cost of health care for church workers...
We all know that our nation is right now embroiled in a controversy over one solution which claimed to address these rising costs but which seems to be either to complex to administer or itself too expensive for us to afford. The so-called Obamacare solution may have one unintended effect for churches and church agencies. That is the possibility that congregations and agencies of the churches who once offered health insurance may choose to offer none, pay the nominal fine imposed by Obamacare, and leave the workers to the health insurance exchanges to find coverage for themselves and their families.
I have no solutions. I am only pointing out how real this issue is for the local congregation and small church agency. Speaking personally, the cost of my health insurance alone is nearly twice what my first salary and health insurance together cost. It is not that I believe the congregation or church agency should avoid providing health insurance for lay and called workers. I believe they should, that it is their duty. It is not that I believe I am owed something which most of the folks in the pews do not have. I believe that all of us should have equal access to reasonable cost health insurance plans and that employers should bear the brunt of the cost.
What I do know is that this single issue and cost is responsible for driving a number decisions on the parish level and goes to the heart of staffing choices in the parish and church agencies. What I do know is that this cost contributes to the low salaries paid to many church workers and to the growth of congregations unable to afford a full-time Pastor.
What I also know is that our giving in the congregation and our support of worthy agencies of the church is also not what it should be. We struggle not always because the resources are not available but simply because they are not offered, not given, not placed in the plates on Sunday morning, and not returned to the Lord. We have chosen not to fund the Church by withholding what should be given cheerfully and gratefully. This is also a significant contributing factor to the high cost of benefits and its ripple effects upon the work of the Kingdom and the workers of the Kingdom whom the congregation calls and employs.
Most folks do not think about the cost of their benefits. As employees, they expect health insurance, life insurance, 401K, and other benefits. Even when employees pay part of the cost of these benefits, it is a much smaller portion of the total cost than most folks ever imagine. A worker who pays $200-300 per month as his or her share of the health care premium is paying only a very small portion of the total cost of that benefit. This is a hidden fact that, at least in the congregational budget, cannot be hidden from view. It is downright shocking to people to realize what the real cost of health insurance is. Yes, maybe the church policies are a bit higher because their pool is smaller but it is not all that much different from the average per worker cost in secular settings. In the end we are all feeling the pain.
I say to those in the congregation that I know of no Pastor or church worker who does not feel the pain of it all. I say to all Pastors and church workers that I know of no congregations who do not feel they could and should do better. I say to all who think the government alone is going to fix this problem, do not count your chickens before the eggs are hatched. This will continue to be a big factor and thorn in the flesh for both workers and congregations. Pray brothers and sisters... pray.