(RNS) An effort to tweak President Obama’s health care reform bill to fill a gap for church health insurance plans could fail because of Republicans’ insistence on repealing the law.

President Barack Obama signs the health insurance reform bill in the East Room of the White House, March 23, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama signs the health insurance reform bill in the East Room of the White House, March 23, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Without a fix, United Methodist Church leaders say some of their churches could drop current coverage for employees once “Obamacare” takes full effect next year, according to Colette Nies, spokeswoman for the UMC’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

Under Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act, more than 50 percent of UMC clergy would qualify for tax credits available to lower- and middle-class families to purchase insurance. But because of the way the law was written, those tax credits cannot be used toward insurance plans churches can offer through government-run exchanges.

“The concern is that the church plans won’t be viable if everyone who can get a tax credit leaves and goes to the state exchange,” said Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee School of Law, who studies health care. 

Since many churches are small — with one pastor and a few lay employees — they will not be required under the Obama plan to provide coverage. If a church drops coverage, that would free (or force) employees to seek the lower-cost insurance with the government exchange.

Small churches that fall outside the large-employer mandate may conclude that they should drop health coverage and guide employees to purchase insurance on their own through government-run exchanges, where subsidies would apply, Nies said. Leaders of church-run health plans believe it would disadvantage church employees who have more tailored coverage.

“We cannot estimate how widespread this would be, but given the income demographics of the UMC workforce, it could be substantial,” Nies said.

UMC leaders praised the passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act because it aligned with the denomination’s values. But leaders say churches were overlooked in the fine print.

Before the health care law was passed, denominations like the United Methodist Church may not have understood all of the implications of the health care law, said John Lomperis of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative think tank that’s often critical of mainline Protestant churches.

Democratic Senator Mark Pryor (Ark.) helped introduce the Church Health Plan Act of 2013 aimed at allowing church employees to apply for tax credits.

Democratic Senator Mark Pryor (Ark.) helped introduce the Church Health Plan Act of 2013 aimed at allowing church employees to apply for tax credits. Photo courtesy the office of Mark Pryor


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“It is not even clear that they even took the time to carefully read the health care bill before so energetically endorsing it and lobbying for its passage,” he said.

A bill under consideration would assure that employees insured under church plans could use the same tax credits offered to people on government exchanges. In June, Democratic Senators Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Chris Coons (Del.) introduced the Church Health Plan Act of 2013 aimed at allowing church employees to apply for tax credits. More than 1 million pastors and other church employees could be impacted by the change, the senators argue.

“At this moment, we’re not expecting to get a vote,” said Ian Koski, a spokesman for Coons. “The dedication of Senate and House members to repeal it entirely instead of working with us to fix it has disincentivized Republicans from working with us on it.”

Democratic Senator Chris Coons (Del.) helped introduce the Church Health Plan Act of 2013 aimed at allowing church employees to apply for tax credits.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons (Del.) helped introduce the Church Health Plan Act of 2013 aimed at allowing church employees to apply for tax credits. Photo courtesy the office of Chris Coons


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Koski also suggested that Republicans might have another incentive to block the legislation: Pryor is running for reelection as a Democrat in a decidedly red state.

The bill has received support of many denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, despite its leaders’ push to repeal the entire act. Leaders within SBC’s medical plan provider GuideStone say church health plans will be at a disadvantage in the health care marketplace.

“We don’t think passing this legislation has to be inconsistent with those who hope for eventual repeal,” said Rodney Miller, general counsel at GuideStone. “We’re dealing with a law that’s on the books in the here and now.”

Even with widespread support across aisles, supporters assume the bill will die. House Republicans have already voted 40 times to repeal Obamacare.

“It doesn’t stand a chance, I don’t think,” said Jim Sargent, the health plan director for the Unitarian Universalist Association. “This is the Obama administration’s signature piece of legislation. Republicans are trying to undermine it. While that’s going on, there isn’t much you can do to fix the bill.”

Many religious groups have objected to the health care law, but much of the controversy has focused on the mandate that will require some religious organizations to provide contraception coverage at no cost to employees.

KRE END BAILEY

20 Comments

  1. Freedom Fighter

    Wake Up America before it’s to late. Socialism leads to Communism. Obamacare is about control. Share this documentary now: Grinding Down America: http://vimeo.com/63749370 with your Friends & Family. Vote the Democratic Socialist Party out of office 2014. See what Barak & his communist party have planned for your family & America. You’ll be shocked & appalled.

    • Freedom Fighter,

      What you are saying makes no sense. Canada has a far more socialized medical plan than anything Obama has proposed. It is not a communist country. I wonder if you know the definition of these terms.

  2. Not only is Obamacare Socialism/Communism it is outright Satanism! Obama and people who believe in government taking care of you is worship of Satan.

    When the Jews asked Samuel to give them a king like all the other nations, G-d told Samuel that it wasn’t Samuel they were rejecting, but me (YHWH).

    So it is with these also that they reject G-d and have set (SATAN) the prince of the power of the air to be their god! Hence they worship (BEL-AIR)!

  3. PS to my last post. The Republican leadership wants Obamacare too, because they are also controlled by Satan!

    Only the righteous oppose idol worship, and the idea of man ruling over man (Satanic slavery).

    • Jesus and his disciples were definitely theocrats, those who supported God’s rule and God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Matthew 4:17) as the only hope for mankind. That kingdom will soon put an end to all human governments (Daniel 2:44) and bring true peace and security to mankind (Psalm 37:10,11).

  4. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The media won’t say it, but many of the problems surfacing with Obamacare are because the bill was passed with virtually none of our so-called representatives even reading the bill. Even worse was the arrogant bragging by Democrat Speaker Pelosi that those complaining could read it after it passed to find out what’s in it. That the non-read part of this monstrously huge bill is now biting the backs of so many who supported the bill (from unions to churches to federal employees) is certainly poetic justice.

  5. Methodist Church leaders should support HR 676, the Single Payer plan currently in the House of Representatives.
    http://www.pnhp.org/news/2011/february/summary-hr-676-the-expanded-improved-medicare-for-all-act
    With that plan, everyone is covered for all medically necessary goods and services and contribute through payroll taxes based on income.
    http://www.pnhp.org/sites/default/files/Funding%20HR%20676_Friedman_7.31.13.pdf
    No complicated schemes or machinations or entanglements created to prioritize private industry profits over patient outcomes.

    • leftover, I agree with you. I just took a look at HR 676 online and liked what I saw. I was on military active duty for 30 years and have been retired for 11 years. I’ve enjoyed my 41 years of socialized medicine and wish everyone had it.

  6. Thank-you for your service. Sorry for the late reply.
    The General Board on Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church at one time endorsed HR676 in one of its earlier versions, but unfortunately I cannot find their statement on it now. (It could have been 4-5 years ago.) I wish they would address the subject again.
    True universal healthcare in a way that is fiscally responsible, financially sustainable and morally agreeable: What’s not to like?
    There’s much more info on the PNHP.org website.

  7. This entire article is based on the premise that “once “Obamacare” takes full effect next year”. But it doesn’t. The employer mandate was delayed by the President, so the entire premise of the article that this must be fixed right now is false.

    Frankly, this article seems to have a decidedly political bent as well as having a false premise.

    Also, the situation for churches is no different for other small employers. The subsidies are ONLY available through the exchanges. ANY small employer who offers health insurance is in the same situation described above. Not saying this isn’t a problem, but rather that the problem has been mischaracterized in scope, substance and timing in this article.

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