Katherine Hamilton’s extensive experience with the healthcare system helps her assist PC(USA)-affiliated organizations with their benefits.
For Katherine Hamilton, helping employers navigate benefits decisions is personal. At 26, as a full-time graduate student, she learned she had cancer. The Affordable Care Act didn’t exist, and her student health insurance didn’t cover treatment because it didn’t have to.
As Strategic Relationship Manager for Affiliated Employers at the Board of Pensions, Katherine guides Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-affiliated organizations in making decisions regarding their benefits selections for their employees. She brings her extensive experience with the healthcare system, both personal and professional, to assisting these organizations — schools and universities, camps and conference centers, human services organizations, and retirement communities.
Katherine had surgery and received radiation treatment the summer before her final year of graduate school after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She took out loans and applied for grants to cover her medical bills, then went on to earn a master’s in American studies and environmental resources from the University of Wyoming.
“Healthcare is a term we equate with insurance when it’s really a lot more holistic than that,” said Katherine, who still stings at the memory of how she learned about her lack of coverage. “I called the school as soon as I learned about my diagnosis. I had no idea what my benefits would cover or what I’d be financially responsible for. I got, ‘Oh, your policy doesn’t cover cancer.’ That was the extent of the support from my student insurance.”
Katherine, who holds a bachelor’s in philosophy, was headed for a career in academia at the time of her diagnosis. “It changed my timeline,” she said. “I now had a preexisting condition and I couldn’t get an individual policy to cover me while I continued my education. I had to prioritize getting a job with benefits that would provide me with the healthcare coverage I needed.”
Hired as an administrative assistant in human resources at a ski resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Katherine worked there for her benefits while teaching part time at Colorado Mountain College. “I moved pretty quickly through HR and ended up in a benefits role,” Katherine said. The ACA became law, and she learned its impact on the healthcare industry as the ski resort, its workforce largely seasonal, scrambled to comply.
Seven years ago, when Katherine’s son, Ethan, was born with cleft lip and cleft palate, requiring surgery, she left her job in HR and benefits to care for him full time. This time, coping with a serious medical condition was easier. The ACA was in place, and Katherine didn’t need to worry about lifetime maximums or exclusions for preexisting conditions limiting her son’s care.
But her career trajectory had been altered. “Ultimately, my experience navigating insurance and the healthcare industry, first as a consumer, then as an HR professional, and later as a caregiver for my son, put me on a path I never anticipated,” Katherine said.
When Katherine returned to work, it was with the benefits consultation firm Trion, part of the Marsh & McLennan Agency. After having worked on the employer side, at the ski resort, her role as a consultant “felt very impersonal.” The churn of the renewal cycle on the brokerage side of benefits left her feeling detached from the human side of healthcare.
A friend suggested Katherine take a look at the Board. Benefits are a matter of justice for the Church, which supports God’s desire that all experience wholeness, so the Benefits Plan and Board programs support spiritual, health, financial, and vocational well-being. In recent years, the Board has brought flexibility and choice to the plan while also maintaining quality. It is commercially competitive and, when combined with Board programs, exceeds what’s available on the open market.
“It actually felt like the perfect fit … an organization that was really trying to do the right thing for consumers,” Katherine said. The state of healthcare in the U.S. is disheartening, she said, and it can be hard not to feel like “there’s not a lot I can do to fix that.”
But the Board’s determination to help PC(USA)-affiliated organizations support their employees inspires optimism, Katherine said. She recalled a talk that Board President Frank C. Spencer gave to a group of employers. “We try to get to ‘yes,’” he told them. “We look at every opportunity to get to ‘yes.’’’
Katherine, who joined the Board two years ago as Benefits Analyst, now assists employers with developing a strategic approach to supporting employees. As Strategic Relationship Manager, she wants to know: “What employee benefits are they currently offering? What are their needs? Where are the gaps?” Behind the questions is the desire to help affiliated organizations be the best employers they can be, and to ensure that employees are able to maximize the rich benefits offered through the Board.
When people are going through a health crisis, or have a family member who is, they are vulnerable. For employees whose organizations participate in the church Benefits Plan, “their well-being is at the top of the list of priorities,” Katherine said.
“It’s rewarding to see the church plan in action on so many levels,” Katherine said. “But I especially feel good knowing that our members can depend on the Board to take care of them and help them navigate some of life’s most challenging circumstances.”