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Amid rate hikes, Annuity Board seeks ways to make healthcare more affordable

DALLAS (BP)–The Annuity Board is concerned, along with all of its participants, about the affordability of medical coverage for those who have dedicated their lives to the Lord’s service amid the current national healthcare crisis.

Fueled by increases in prescription drug costs, healthcare provider expenses, consumer demand and government regulation, health insurance plans across the nation will see significant rate increases again for the 2003 plan year. Annuity Board medical products are not immune to the national crisis and rising costs.

“Funding for the Annuity Board’s indemnity medical plans comes directly from monthly payments received from participants or their employers,” said Doug Day, the board’s executive officer for benefit services. “We receive no Cooperative Program funds for our life and health programs, and none of the retirement dollars we manage for our retirement plan participants can be used to offset the medical program costs.

“It is an issue of claims versus premiums,” Day said. “The unwelcome reality is we must increase monthly rates to cover rising claim costs.”

In today’s turbulent healthcare environment, Annuity Board officials have maintained a commitment to ongoing efforts to minimize costs and make its insurance programs more affordable.

Over the past year, the board has expanded preferred provider networks and HMO offerings to make cost-saving options available to more medical plan participants. The board offers three levels of its comprehensive medical plan. With the earlier addition of two-lower cost, higher deductible Comprehensive Medical plans and a $20 copay for network office visits, individuals and families have alternatives to the higher cost plan.

A fourth level for the comprehensive medical plan is being developed for Jan. 1 in order to help address the affordability issue. This option will be priced at 45 percent less than the premium of the level one comprehensive medical plan. It will incorporate a higher deductible and higher copay amounts.

This lower-cost alternative may be a viable choice for those who cannot afford the rate increases of one of the other comprehensive medical options, according to board officials. For example, a participant who is paying $600 per month for level one family coverage will pay $810 as of Jan. 1. However, the new level four option will be $446 per month. Many participants and churches will find this option to be more affordable. For those who choose to use this plan, churches are encouraged to “self-insure” for minor illnesses and deductibles. Many churches are already taking this approach.

Participants can take an active part in helping to hold down healthcare costs by taking responsibility for their own wellness, board officials have noted. Over one-half of the past year’s medical claims were related to situations that could have been prevented with a healthier lifestyle. The stressful nature of church work is revealed in that the number one prescription drug cost for the Annuity Board’s medical plans is for stress-related issues.

The Annuity Board has called on churches to heed the scriptural admonitions related to the spiritual call of the pastor and at the same time reminded those in ministry that they have a responsibility to recognize their body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Annuity Board officials are encouraging ministers and staff of Southern Baptist churches and entities, if at all possible, to continue their medical coverage in the midst of escalating costs. They note significant advantages for a Baptist pastor or staff member in being a part of the Annuity Board’s medical program. The Annuity Board’s medical coverage is portable and can be taken state to state and no one has ever been canceled in the program except for lack of payment. Ministers and churches which choose to look elsewhere for medical coverage are encouraged to be sure they are comparing plans with similar benefits.

In a recent open letter to the chairmen of deacons of Southern Baptist churches across the nation, the board’s president, O.S. Hawkins, appealed to churches to provide medical benefits for their pastors and staff apart from their salaries. He quoted the apostle Paul who wrote to the Corinthians, “The Lord commands that those who preach the gospel should be supported by those who receive the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14).

“Most businesses provide their employees with benefits separate and apart from their salaries,” Hawkins said. “Although our churches are ministries and not a business, sound business principles should still apply. Providing adequate benefits is a sign of good stewardship and shows concern for our church staffs. Employee benefits apart from the salary package should include medical, life and disability coverage, retirement plan contributions and Social Security assistance for ministers.”

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  • Curtis D. Sharp