Guest commentary by Frank Spencer, president of the Board of Pensions, on lower costs for medical coverage available to seminarians. Registration with the new pricing for eligible inquirers and candidates for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be open from Aug. 15-Sept. 30, 2017.
The Board of Pensions is dramatically reducing pricing for seminarian healthcare coverage effective September 1, 2017. Individual coverage is now available at a 44 percent reduction in the current cost, and still includes the full range of healthcare services and prescription drug benefits.
As I visited our seminaries over the past year, the cost of healthcare coverage often came up. Students were appreciative of the denomination’s intent to provide coverage, but the cost was, quite frankly, out of reach for most of them. At the Board, we began working on a more meaningful subsidy without compromising coverage.
The Board offers two different medical options in the BlueCard network — the preferred provider organization (PPO) and the exclusive provider organization (EPO). Until now, only the PPO was available to seminarians. Now, seminarians can choose between the two based on their resources, and the savings over current coverage costs are substantial with either choice. We’ve reduced the cost of individual coverage in the PPO by 34 percent; the cost of individual coverage in the EPO represents a 44 percent reduction in the current cost of the PPO.
The BlueCard network is the largest in the United States and includes 96 percent of all hospitals and over 90 percent of all physicians. The PPO is the option in which all installed pastors participate. The less expensive EPO is the same network, but pays no out-of-network benefits and provides no non-formulary drug coverage.
In the PPO option, deductibles and the copayment maximum are scaled to income such that lower-compensated members pay less than those who are more highly compensated. Seminary students will pay deductibles and copays at the lowest level in that option. The EPO has fixed deductibles and is approximately 15 percent less expensive in the monthly cost of coverage (depending on usage, the out-of-pocket costs may be higher).
I love spending time on our seminary campuses. It always gives me great hope for the Church and lets me hear from our future leaders about the issues that are on their minds. Whether it is preaching, teaching, leading worship, or hearing about things like healthcare, I always come away enriched by my encounters.
At this time in the life of our Church, it is more critical than ever that we find ways to support those who are answering God’s call to ministry. Everyone in a leadership position, from agency heads to Committee on Ministry members, needs to be asking themselves how we can make smoother the path to ordained ministry. Reducing the cost of medical coverage for seminarians is but one way to show support.