If you’re looking for some specialty health insurance companies for pastors and other church workers, the unfortunate truth is that you probably won’t find any. Pastors are no different from any other sort of employee, and must obtain health insurance through normal channels. However, there are a couple of alternatives if a church or its pastor cannot find affordable health care coverage.
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According to a 2008 article published by Christianity Today Magazine, the majority of religious denominations surveyed by the national Association of Evangelicals (NAE) provide little or no health insurance coverage to their pastors or other full time staff. This is largely due to the skyrocketing cost of health insurance premiumsin relation to dwindling donations most churches in America are experiencing.
How are pastors obtaining health insurance?
To understand pastors and the health insurance dilemma it’s important to first understand the difference between denominational and independent churches. A denominational church belongs to a large national or international organization with a central organizational office and an easily defined hierarchy. An independent church is one that operates solely on its own or in a loose affiliation with other churches of similar faith. Independent churches are not part of any hierarchical structure.
With that in mind, denominations that provide health insurance to their pastors usually do so through a group plan purchased by the denomination’s main office. That plan can be purchased from a well known insurance company such as Blue Cross Blue Shield or Humana. The denomination could also be self insured through a plan administrator like Everence, Inc. However, according to the previously mentioned survey, more and more denominations are dropping health insurance coverage for their pastors.
Pastors of independent churches are typically left to fend for themselves in terms of health insurance. That’s because most independent churches are small; many are fortunate to be able to pay their pastors a salary, let alone extra benefits. In citing the NAE survey, the Christian Post notes that as many as 80% of these pastors obtain health insurance through their spouse’s employer, or via their own secular job outside of the church.
Do pastors qualify for any government assistance?
Pastors will qualify for Medicaid if their income is low enough. However, Medicaid will come with some limits. Furthermore, many pastors refuse to use Medicaid because of their firm conviction that accepting government sponsored insurance would be a violation of their religious beliefs.
That means that a good majority of pastors who would qualify for Medicaid are not applying for it. Those who do often find it a humbling experience which often grates on their conscience.
At the state level, pastors sometimes qualify for government subsidized health plans, other times they don’t. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how different states administer their health insurance programs. A pastor who might qualify in Georgia may find that he is ineligible in New York.
Should pastors investigate health sharing plans?
There are more than a dozen health sharing programs across the country aimed specifically at evangelical Christians and church workers. These programs are by no means the same as traditional health insurance. Rather, they are group health insurance programs that collect contributions from every subscriber and then distribute them among those in need.
How distribution is made can vary from one group to the next. It is important to note that with most of these plans there is no guarantee that every medical bill will be covered. There are some pastors who swear by these plans as the only sound way to get health insurance coverage that’s consistent with their faith.
On the other hand, there are others who advise great caution be exercised when choosing this option. As with anything else, pastors who are considering health sharing plans should investigate all of their options thoroughly. It also helps to speak with others who have used specific plans.
Though obtaining affordable health insurance is difficult for most people who don’t get it through their employers, it can’t be denied that pastors and other church workers are disproportionately affected. They are both employees and contractors at the same time. It is a very difficult thing to work out… but then again, so is just about everything else for the pastor. It just comes with the territory.
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