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Annuity Board redesigns medical plans for 2004

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–New and expanded medical plans for Southern Baptist ministers, church and denominational employees and seminary students will be offered by the Annuity Board for 2004.

The new plans were announced by Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins and trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention entity during an Aug. 4-5 trustee meeting in San Francisco.

“The plans will offer a wide variety of costs and benefit levels,” Hawkins noted. “With input from churches, organizations and individuals, we’ve redesigned all of our self-funded medical plans.”

The wider range of plan options, Hawkins said, “will better meet the healthcare and financial needs of our pastors as well as Southern Baptist employers and their employees.”

Benefits of the new preferred provider organization (PPO) plans include copays for doctor’s office visits, a variety of coinsurance levels and deductibles ranging from $0 to $3,000.

Anyone currently participating in one of the Annuity Board’s self-funded medical plans will be required to select a new plan for 2004. The Annuity Board will provide extensive information on the new plans and allow existing participants to enroll in a new plan for 2004 and then transfer to any other available Annuity Board plan the following year without providing proof of good health.

“A family may be able to save money by choosing a plan with a higher deductible or higher coinsurance level but a lower monthly rate,” Douglas D. Day, the board’s executive officer for benefit services, said. “By allowing individuals to move to a new plan after a year, we hope participants will feel comfortable trying out our new medical plans.”

“Our concern has always been for the pastor at the crossroads,” Hawkins said — “that pastor who is out there serving in a smaller church, striving to be a good steward of the money his church provides for him. It has been a top priority for the Annuity Board to make coverage affordable and accessible to those pastors and their families. They have been foremost in our minds as we’ve restructured our medical plans.

“We believe we have some helpful solutions for those who previously did not have access to a network or could not meet underwriting guidelines,” Hawkins also said.

Final negotiations are underway with a major national PPO network to provide medical plan participants in select areas with a choice of networks beginning Jan. 1. This new network, along with the PPO networks made available through The Principal Financial Group (The Principal), would allow more than 99 percent of current Annuity Board medical plan participants to access PPO doctors and healthcare facilities.

The new PPO plans will encourage the use of network providers by paying less for services provided by out-of-network providers. For example, a plan that pays 80 percent of the cost of care received from a network provider might pay only 50 percent or 60 percent for the same service received from an out-of-network provider. There will be three new out-of-area plans available for the small number of participants who do not have access to a PPO network.

In addition to the core plans, a limited benefit plan will provide a low-cost coverage option for those who might not otherwise be able to afford medical coverage. It will allow employees who previously would have been ineligible for coverage to enroll themselves and their families in an Annuity Board medical plan, but those in the limited benefit plan will not have the option to transfer to another plan in the future.

“One of the burdens of our hearts has been those pastors and their families who could not get coverage through underwriting,” Hawkins said. “We now have a way for these families to access discounted medical services and prescription drugs.”

Wellness has been a major focus of the Annuity Board. In 2002, the Annuity Board began a pilot wellness program with the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC). Over the past year and a half, employees from both organizations have participated in several activities designed to promote healthy lifestyles.

The TBC has seen an improvement in medical claims over the past 12 months. “Our wellness program is making people aware that everything they do can affect the whole group’s claims experience,” Garnett Hogan, a TBC staffer, said. “We asked our employees to commit to doing just one thing to improve their health, and we’re already seeing positive results.”

Preventive care benefits will be available in all of the core PPO plans for 2004. New features include a $250 benefit per person for preventive care, a wider range of services covered by the wellness benefit, and no dollar limit for routine immunizations for children up to age 2. A new disease management program will help individuals diagnosed with coronary heart disease or diabetes better manage their conditions and stay healthier. Prenatal care management also will be available.

“If our people will join us in taking responsibility for their health and adopt an attitude of wellness, we could see medical claims and monthly payments decline,” Hawkins said. “We’re doing what we can to hold down costs, but we need the help of those who are in our medical plans.”

The Annuity Board is working to make an interactive wellness website available to participants in the new PPO plans. The website will provide tools to help individuals live a healthier lifestyle. Features will include online health assessments, a daily exercise log, a medical reference guide and current medical news.

Details on the new medical plans, including rates, will be mailed to all current Annuity Board medical plan participants in mid-September. Participants in the board’s Personal Plans will see a change from a three-tier to a four-tier rating structure for 2004. The new structure gives participants who cover two or more children, but not their spouse, an opportunity to save money.

“Families will have the option of covering a parent and children at a lower cost than they would pay for family coverage,” Day said. “This means an individual whose spouse has employer-provided coverage at his or her work can drop the spouse’s Annuity Board coverage and move to a lower rate level to save money.”

Larger employers that provide age-rated Group Plans medical coverage from the Annuity Board for their employees also may have the option to change to the new four-tier rating structure.

Additionally, the Annuity Board soon will announce the endorsement of a firm to set up and administer flexible benefit plans at a discounted rate for employers with participants in Annuity Board medical plans. Flexible benefit plans are often called “cafeteria plans” or “section 125 plans.” When an employer adopts one of these plans, employees may be able to use pre-tax dollars to pay for the cost of medical plan coverage and medical expenses not reimbursed by medical plans.

“The Annuity Board is negotiating discounted rates to make flexible benefit plans more affordable for Southern Baptist churches and smaller employers offering Annuity Board medical coverage,” Day said. “We sincerely hope that this arrangement will meet the needs of many churches and employers and take some of the pain out of the increasing cost of medical coverage.”

Details on this endorsed arrangement and information on how eligible Southern Baptist employers can contact the plan administrator will be available soon.

Annuity Board medical plan participants who have questions about the new medical plans, and Southern Baptist employees who would like more information about enrolling in the plans will have the opportunity to talk to Annuity Board representatives at state conventions this fall. In addition, regional information meetings will be held across the country for participants who need more information. Customer relations specialists are available by phone on business days from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST at 1-800-262-0511.

In other business, the board’s treasurer and chief financial officer, Jeffrey P. Billinger, reported total assets were $6.6 billion at June 30, compared to $6.1 billion at Dec. 31. Second quarter net income was the third-largest quarterly total in Annuity Board history, reflecting a rebound in the financial markets. Relief receipts were up slightly over the same period last year and relief payments also were up due to an increase in the amount awarded to relief recipients approved last year by trustees.

The trustees’ relief committee approved 100 new relief participants added to the roll during the first and second quarters of the year. They also approved 6 two-year monthly grants, 5 two-year expense grants, 1 one-time grant and 1 temporary grant. Thirty-nine individuals were declined for being outside guidelines.

Trustees welcomed eight new trustees elected during the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix: Robert A. Harris Jr. of Virginia; Timothy E. Head of South Carolina; James B. Henry of Florida; Darryl J. Hoychick of Louisiana; Ronald D. Murff of Texas; James R. Scrivner and A. Ray Sikes, both of Oklahoma; and Frankie J. Smitherman of Alabama.

The next scheduled meeting of the Annuity Board trustees will be Nov. 3-4 in Dallas.
Curtis D. Sharp is the Annuity Board’s executive officer for denominational and public relations services.

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