The Growing Healthcare Crisis Among Ministers?

First, this post is not about partisan politics. I am not inviting any harsh rhetoric or political debates. This would be counterproductive.

I am inviting a dialogue. I am seeking information. Perhaps something you know could help someone else.

Those who are in full-time ministry occupy a rather unique tax status. We are considered self-employed when it comes to Social Security, but employed when it comes to income tax. That is one financial hurdle of our profession.

Another one–particularly for those of us serving in independent fellowships (such as the Churches of Christ)–is that there is no church-wide system to assist us in such things as planning retirement and healthcare. If assistance for these things exists they are negotiated through the local congregation in which we serve. And since most of our congregations of the Churches of Christ are not that large they cannot afford much more than just a salary. This leaves the minister alone to bear the expense of both retirement and healthcare and quite often either one or both go lacking.

I have seen and lived the consequences of this over the years. I know ministers who continue to work well past retirement years out of necessity (yes, some continue because they enjoy serving and could not imagine ever not being involved in ministry). I have also known (and this seems to be only increasing) ministers who have either no or very inadequate healthcare coverage (particularly if they do not receive it through the employment of their spouse).

Yes, there seems to be a growing healthcare crisis among ministers. While I do not know the workings of or specific details about the new Affordable Healthcare Act–the information I am getting from fellow ministers is, that it is only making an already expensive situation even more costly and more complicated.

(Personal disclosure: I and my family do have healthcare coverage which we provide for ourselves. Currently I have a grandfathered health insurance policy. It is standard stuff, but not widely accepted in my area. I am able to use it, but only with one hospital system in my city. This is not ACA related. This has to do with my insurance brand and how they do business with the local hospitals and doctors. My wife and kids have another standard type policy with another insurer which is widely accepted. They are good through 2015 and then (we have been told) because of the ACA will have to find other coverage. I disclose this to say that I yet have had to deal with the changes brought in by the ACA and therefore cannot personally speak to it. My conclusion of the ACA increasing costs comes from information shared by other ministers currently involved/enrolled in it.)

So, what can be done about this crisis? What can our churches do to help? What alternatives are out there besides what is offered through the ACA? Is the ACA actually working for any ministers?

Ministers and their families without healthcare is not only a personal issue, it would seem to be a congregational one as well. What would happen in your congregation if an uninsured minister or family member became ill or were injured in an accident? Would the congregation feel compelled to cover the costs (or at least some of them)? Would it not be better stewardship then to help provide healthcare for you minister–before a tragedy occurs? What would the weight of healthcare debt do to the ability of a minister to serve effectively? Could this force him out of ministry into another profession that offers healthcare options? There are many questions here–including is there really a crisis?

Perhaps you know some of the answers to these questions. Your input on this is welcome.

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3 Responses to The Growing Healthcare Crisis Among Ministers?

  1. Brian Humek says:

    I am sorry you are going to lose your insurance too. It’s too bad the architect of Obamacare has stated multiple times that the CBO was lied to and that the bill only passed due to the stupidity of the American voters. If we were more intelligent, maybe me, you and many others would not have lost the insurance we’ve had for years.

  2. ozziepete says:

    Danny, I think the core of the issue you’ve raised is that churches need to be aware of the health insurance burden on their ministers. Yes, everyone has that burden, but although I don’t really like thinking of it this way, there’s a sense in which church members are employers. So the question isn’t just “what are my circumstances?” The key question is “How can/will a church and its members provide for the needs of the person they’re employing?”

    I suspect that churches often pick a salary figure they think is fair and tell the minister to find his own insurance and retirement and then don’t think any more about it. I don’t think that’s fair on the minister as over time his insurance will increasingly eat up a greater % of his salary. It’s much better that the church be aware of ensuring the minister’s insurance needs are covered.

  3. Gary says:

    My understanding was that those with lower incomes would receive subsidies for their health insurance under the ACA. Does a minister’s housing allowance count as income under the ACA? If it does not count as income then it seems that many one income minister families would qualify for subsidies. As a practical matter many ministers in two income families rely on their spouse’s job for health insurance. Having a denominational health insurance plan is not necessarily a panacea either. Some years ago I know that the Disciples of Christ health insurance for their ministers was unbelievably expensive- to the point that those with working spouses with health insurance did not participate in it. I’m not sure how their plan has fared with the ACA.

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