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Church Health Plans Jeopardized by 'ObamaCare' Standoff

(UPDATED) While House tries to defund president's healthcare program, current rules overlook church employees for crucial tax credits.
Church Health Plans Jeopardized by 'ObamaCare' Standoff Elvert Barnes/Flickr
UMC sign by U.S. Supreme Court (2012).

Methodist leaders are doing somewhat of an Obamacare about-face—and other denominations share their concern.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) pushed for and praised the passage of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. Now, UMC leaders say "employees of United Methodist churches may soon lose their health care coverage due to some coming [ACA] provisions."

According to the United Methodist Reporter, small-church employees—clergy and lay people alike—could qualify to receive tax credits that help low-to-moderate-income citizens purchase healthcare. Yet the ACA overlooks such employees because the credits cannot be used toward church insurance plans.

The whole problem can be avoided if Congress approves a Democrat-backed fix, the Church Health Plan Act of 2013. But unfortunately for UMC staff, partisan fighting—and Republican calls to repeal the ACA all together—means the bill's passage isn't promising, reports Religion News Service.

The latest skirmish: Today's 230-189 House vote, which passes a spending bill that would defund the ACA. (The bill is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, and faces a veto threat from President Obama.)

That leaves church employees in a tough spot, forced to choose between the higher cost of an unsubsidized church plan and a secular, government-run option that could subsidize objectionable procedures or abortifacient contraceptives. Moreover, if large numbers of church employees opt-in for government health plans, that could "jeopardize the viability of church plans" all together, says law professor Howard Friedman of Religion Clause.

GuideStone Financial Resources, which provides insurance for employees of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), is also concerned about this problem—but emphasizes that it remains an advocate for church employees to stay on church plans.

GuideStone president O. S. Hawkins told Baptist Press that excluding pastors and their families "from accessing subsidies if they participate in a church health plan [is] an issue of fundamental unfairness."

CT has previously reported on the topic of health care reform and the Affordable Care Act, including extensive coverage of the ACA's employer-provided contraceptive mandate. Although houses of worship are exempt from this portion of the ACA, hundreds of lawsuits filed against the government by Christian-owned businesses are still pending. Guidestone recently announced that it will join the legal fight.

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Related Topics:Health Care Reform
Posted:September 20, 2013 at 1:02PM
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