October 21, 2002
DALLAS—In the midst of a national health care crisis, the Annuity Board is continuing to explore options to ensure that more than 28,000 Southern Baptist ministers and denominational workers and their families who participate in Annuity Board medical plans will continue to have affordable choices in health care coverage.
In 2003, a new lower cost Comprehensive Medical plan level will be offered, new provider networks will be in place and a well baby care benefit will be added to all levels of the plan.
The rise in health care costs is much more than an Annuity Board issue. It has become a crisis on a national level. The Annuity Board is very concerned about how the upcoming medical plan rate increases will affect the pastors and workers in small churches that are trying to stretch budget dollars.
Funding for the Annuity Board’s medical plans comes directly from monthly payments for coverage received from participants and employers. The Annuity Board receives no Cooperative Program funds to subsidize its medical plans. When current medical plan rates are not sufficient to cover projected claims and expenses for the upcoming year, rates are increased.
"We are aware of the financial burden our participants are facing and the difficult decisions to be made when choosing a medical plan," said Doug Day, executive officer, Benefit Services. "For most participants, what was once a decision based upon benefits has now become a decision based upon affordability, benefits and protection during a catastrophic illness."
With the addition of a new Comprehensive Medical plan option for 2003, the Annuity Board will offer four Comprehensive Medical plan levels—in addition to the HMO plans available in certain areas. The new Level Four plan costs about 45% less than the Level One plan and has a higher deductible, co-pay amounts and out-of-pocket maximums.
"Of course everyone would prefer the highest benefit plan," Day said, "but in reality, some individuals may need to consider other options. A plan level with a lower monthly rate but a higher deductible and co-pay percentage can provide the protection a family needs in the event of a serious illness or injury. Some churches are choosing to use the plan with the higher deductible and co-pay percentage and then self-insure for the difference in the deductible and the co-pay."
To provide more participants with a broader choice of network doctors, hospitals and other health care providers, the Annuity Board is also expanding its preferred provider organization (PPO) networks for 2003.
"By taking a more regional approach to networks, we’ve been able to look closely at each geographic area and evaluate the networks available in that area," Day said. "Currently, our participants are receiving enhanced network benefits for about 70% of their medical care. With the new networks in place, many participants could use the same doctors and hospitals and receive network benefits for about 90% of their health care services."
A well baby care benefit will be added to the Annuity Board’s Comprehensive Medical plans for the first time in 2003. "With a renewed emphasis on wellness, we are pleased to be able to offer our participants additional wellness benefits," Day said. "A couple of years ago we were able to add some wellness benefits for adults to the Comprehensive Medical plans, now we’re taking it a step further and including some well baby benefits for children less than 24 months old."
As an advocate for its participants, the Annuity Board is approaching this situation with a three-pronged approach.
First, the Annuity Board is doing what it can to hold down administrative costs and design plans to meet its participants’ needs. While the national average for administrative expenses is 15%, expenses for the Annuity Board plans are only 12%. In an effort to provide better customer service, a new third party administrator is being hired and an additional lower cost option in the comprehensive medical plan is being offered Jan. 1, 2003.
Second, to create a win-win situation, the Annuity Board is encouraging individuals to improve their own health by living a healthier lifestyle. More than one-half of last year’s medical claims were related to situations that could have been prevented with healthier lifestyles.
Finally, the Annuity Board is making a concentrated effort to make church leaders aware of the increasing health care crisis and asking them to provide adequate employee benefits for their employees—apart from the salary package. Churches are encouraged to help their ministers and staff members find time to exercise and get the rest they need. The ministry is a highly stressful calling. Churches help their ministers as well as themselves when they encourage healthier lifestyles. (Wendy Ashley, is a project team leader in Communications for the Annuity Board.)