From our President: Meeting the needs of the changing Church

August 03, 2022
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.

3 John 1:2

As I drafted the Board of Pensions presentation for the Health, Safety, and Benefits Committee at the 225th General Assembly (2022), I was reminded of how the agency has risen through the years to meet challenges to the Medical Plan and provide stability for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) community.

In fall 2014, the Medical Plan faced a projected loss of $22 million a year, with reserves of only $54 million. Healthcare costs were up year over year. And medical dues had followed, having increased 20 percent over the prior two years. With the Benefits Plan offering a single, take-it-or-leave it benefits package, with no flexibility of choice and fully employer-paid, membership was in steady decline.

We asked the larger Church for guidance. We held listening sessions with mid council leaders and ministers throughout the country. This is what we heard: It’s important to care for pastors, but give us some flexibility. We want to care for more church workers, but help us control costs. The Board had been serving a small circle of people. People were asking for choices, so, we remade the Benefits Plan.

In 2017, we began making benefits available menu-style for people who are not in installed positions. Congregations and employers can now select benefits to offer based on their resources and staff needs. PC(USA) national agencies alone recognized annual savings totaling $3 million. We established a high-cost claims fund to cover medical claims over $250,000 and remove them from the rate base. The fund has helped to bring stability to Medical Plan costs in the face of steadily rising healthcare costs.

In 2021, the Medical Plan couldn’t dodge a unique spike in healthcare costs. The spike happened when rising medical costs collided with a dramatic jump in healthcare use after the coronavirus crisis. As reported in the Board Bulletin last month, this spike resulted in an increase in 2023 Pastor’s Participation dues, on which we’ve been able to hold the line for five years.

The Board of Pensions remains deeply committed to providing affordability and flexibility in the Benefits Plan, and to transforming in support of the changing Church. Since redesigning the plan, we have continued to add benefits, including two additional medical coverage options, making the Medical Plan more affordable.

We’ve redefined stewardship as providing the most benefits, to the most people, without risking the ability to keep our promises. Today, organizations that Presbyterians founded decades ago, like colleges and retirement communities, are participating in the church Benefits Plan. And more people who serve congregations are receiving benefits through the plan.

As we heard at the 225th General Assembly (2022), inequity in coverage remains within our community. The Board of Pensions is committed to working with the Church at large to change this. God’s wish is for everyone to flourish with life abundant.

Grace and peace, 

The Reverend Dr. Frank Clark Spencer