DALLAS (BP)–GuideStone Financial Resources has experienced a third year of positive trends in its medical insurance rates, President O.S. Hawkins told trustees of the Southern Baptist entity during their Nov. 6-7 meeting in Dallas.
“For the third year in a row,” Hawkins said, “we will have no medical inflation increase in our rates for participants in our personal medical plans.
“This year we were able to give 57 percent of our personal plan participants a rate decrease. For 2007, 40 percent of our personal plan participants will receive a rate decrease,” Hawkins said.
“In an environment where national medical costs are trending upwards at 8-12 percent per year,” he noted, “we have effectively stabilized rates while improving benefits for our participants.”
The transition to a single network provider, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, has resulted in deeper discounts for medical services and, consequently, lower claims. Many participants have chosen higher deductible plans, which also has contributed to GuideStone’s ability to stabilize rates.
GuideStone’s pharmacy coalition agreement with Medco Health Solutions also has contributed to containing costs, Hawkins reported. While the national trend in pharmacy increases is running approximately 12 percent, he said pharmacy costs for GuideStone’s plans have only increased by 6 percent.
Hawkins framed his report to the trustees in the vision statement of GuideStone which states, “GuideStone Financial Resources exists to honor the Lord by being a lifelong partner with its participants in enhancing their financial security.”
“In every facet of our work, we look through the lens of this vision statement to focus our tasks,” Hawkins said, noting that the theme that will further direct GuideStone’s work for 2007 is found in Matthew 25:21. “We want to say to our participants, ‘Well done’ as they serve in their places of responsibility. The value proposition we offer our participants is performance guided by values.”
Hawkins also informed the trustees that the staff has launched a feasibility study in response to a motion referred to GuideStone from the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting asking GuideStone to study the feasibility of making its products and services available to members of Southern Baptist churches. GuideStone trustees will hear a report of the study during their next meeting, in Feb. 26-27 in Dallas.
John R. Jones, GuideStone’s chief operating officer, reviewing key financial indicators for the first nine months of 2006, told trustees, “In each area of our operations we are experiencing success,” he said.
In addition to the positive news regarding medical rates, Jones said the number of medical plan participants is growing. “While in past years we have seen declining participation in our medical plans, we are experiencing significant increases in new participants since Jan. 1, 2006,” Jones said. “This increase in participants gives testimony to the competitiveness of medical plans for our participants.” From January through September, enrollment in GuideStone’s personal and group medical plans posted a net increase of more than 1,000.
Jones reported that assets under management by GuideStone Financial Resources totaled $8.989 billion at the end of September.
Also citing the success of GuideStone’s investment programs offered through GuideStone Funds, Jones said, “A significant milestone was reached in August as GuideStone Funds celebrated its fifth anniversary. The track record of the funds over this period of time affirms that the funds were launched with skill and excellence.”
For the five years ending Sept. 30, 2006, 11 of the 13 investment funds provided by GuideStone Funds (GS4 share class) were ranked in the top half of their peer universe by Lipper and 12 of 13 GuideStone Funds (GS4 share class) were below the Lipper median for fees. The peer universe includes all registered mutual funds with similar objectives according to total returns. The most recent investment performance and fund ranking can be accessed at www.GuideStone.org.
Jones also announced that GuideStone Funds is expanding its retirement and retail investment options for eligible participants with the launch of the MyDestination Funds on Jan. 2. The five registered date target funds will be managed to specific retirement dates and may be a suitable option for investors of all ages looking to create or maintain a diversified, age-appropriate retirement choice in a single fund. Each of the MyDestination Funds is a diversified “fund-of-funds” that has an asset allocation that gradually becomes more conservative as an investor approaches retirement. The funds are designed for investors willing to pay additional expenses in exchange for automatic rebalancing.
“We are offering these funds because of strong interest expressed by our participants and plans’ sponsors in recent market research and the growing acceptance of date target funds in the industry,” Jones said.
Other initiatives include new retirement plan products to be available to GuideStone plan participants Jan. 1. “Recent legislation has made it possible to permit Roth 403(b) and Roth 401(k) contributions in our retirement plans. We are pleased to offer our participants greater flexibility in how they save for retirement,” Jones said.
Trustees received a report that participants receiving fixed annuity payments will not see an increase in their benefits in January 2007. The report was based on the annual valuation of the Fixed Benefit Fund. The Fixed Benefit Fund is a pool of assets utilized to pay benefits to participants who have chosen to take a fixed annuity at retirement and also to pay benefits under Plan A. Unlike some corporate pension plans or Social Security, a fixed annuity payment does not include cost of living adjustments. In the past 20 years, GuideStone has passed along some benefit increases due to unusually good investment returns. However, most investment managers believe it is highly unlikely that investment returns in the foreseeable future will be similar to the returns experienced during the late 1980s and ’90s.
Gregory A. Bibb of Kentucky, chairman of the trustees’ budget subcommittee, reviewed the proposed $68.8 million operating budget for 2007, an increase of 5.3 percent over the current year, and it was unanimously adopted by trustees.
“The trustee budget subcommittee and the staff have carefully prepared a budget that undergirds our ministries and provides the resources to move ahead in developing future strategies that will help us fulfill our vision to enhance the financial security of our participants,” Bibb said.
GuideStone receives no Cooperative Program funds for operations from the Southern Baptist Convention, but pays all expenses from an advisory fee for the investment funds offered through GuideStone Funds. All receipts from Cooperative Program money are paid as financial assistance to needy retired ministers or denominational workers or their widows.
The trustees’ relief committee approved applications for nine two-year monthly grants and two one-time emergency grants. Twenty-three individuals were added to the financial assistance roll or upgraded in their benefit amount during the quarter.
Other action by the relief committee included approving a $200 Christmas check for each financial assistance recipient on the roll as of Dec. 1. Funds to provide the special Christmas check are made possible through GuideStone’s endowment program.
Individuals and churches are invited to participate in the Adopt An Annuitant program. For more details on the Adopt An Annuitant ministry, call 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433); visit www.GuideStone.org and click on the Adopt An Annuitant link; or send an e-mail message to [email protected]
Curtis D. Sharp is the executive officer for denominational and public relations with GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.