Taking Care of Those Who Take Care of Usby Jennifer Gibson, PharmD | September 20, 2008
Pastors and church staff members answer a call to take care of the rest of us. They often sacrifice personal time and possessions to support their congregations. But now, the congregations are not returning the favor.
A recent survey conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) reported that many pastors and church staffers are among the growing number of uninsured or underinsured Americans. A majority of pastors reported receiving little or no help from their national denominations in obtaining health insurance coverage. Several large denominations, including Catholic and Presbyterian churches, mandate health coverage for its clergy and provide centralized coverage, but some smaller denominations are unable to provide this benefit.
Across America, people are strapped for cash, worrying about mortgage rates and prices at the gas pump, and charitable giving is dwindling. In turn, churches are strapped for cash. While churches answer to a higher power, they must also function as businesses. They must have income that meets or exceeds expenses, and they must operate with a budget. Sadly, skyrocketing insurance premiums have left many churches removing insurance coverage from their annual expenses. Particularly smaller churches simply do not earn enough revenue to cover comprehensive benefits packages for clergy and staff members and their families.
According to the NAE’s Leaders Survey, which is comprised of CEO’s of sixty denominations as well as representatives of many evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers, and churches, many churches are using a combination of high deductible coverage, self-insurance programs, health savings accounts, and individual policies to cover the gap in coverage for clergy. Alternatively, there are charitable organizations available for clergy who are faced with large medical bills. Also common is for ministers to find secondary employment to obtain adequate health coverage or obtain coverage through a spouse’s employer. Finally, many ministers are eligible for Medicare or Medicaid coverage. Sadly, ministers who do not fall in to any of those categories just go without coverage.
Clergy are aging with the rest of America’s population and will need ample health care coverage just like the rest of us. Further, executives of many denominations see inadequate insurance coverage as a barrier to finding young, new clergy. The problem of under- or uninsured pastors and staff members is growing and many in its wake are relying on faith alone to calm the waters. Will God provide for the needs of the men and women who tend His flock or will the congregations need to find a way to pay?
Evangelical Leaders Survey: Many pastors “on their own” for health insurance. NAE. May 2008.
Johnson TD. Census bureau: Number of U.S. uninsured rises to 47 million: Almost 5 percent increase since 2005. Nations Health. 2007;37(8).
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