This month we are celebrating my wife being a 15-year breast cancer survivor. At the time of her diagnosis we could only afford a high deductible health plan. Her course of treatment included three major surgeries, six months of chemotherapy, and 7 weeks of radiation treatment. Each chemo treatment cost about $7,500! So when her last month of treatment fell in January, we had to pay the full deductible in one month! Thankfully, God provided for our needs through the help of our church, family, friends, some government assistance, and gifts from anonymous Christians throughout the world. We are truly thankful for all that God has done.
This experience taught me far more than I ever wished to know about health insurance. In the following years, we struggled financially because our health insurance costs rose to well over $10,000 per year and our family deductible went from $6,000 to more than $13,000. Eventually, the Affordable Care Act saved us from financial bondage. Now, we have great health coverage through my wife’s employer. What health insurance options do pastors have today? Hopefully this article will help you or your pastor avoid the years of stress we endured.
Health Insurance for Pastors
Pastors often fall through the cracks of the health insurance industry. Larger churches can purchase their own group plans, but small churches often struggle to offer any type of health coverage for their pastor. Unless they can get insurance through a spouse’s job, this leaves a pastor and his family alone to navigate the wasteland of self-insurance. Here are some areas for pastors and churches to explore when it come to health insurance coverage:
Group Plan through Your Church or Denomination
Some large independent churches and many denominations offer group health insurance plans. These plans vary in coverage and cost. In some denominations, the total cost of health insurance is covered by the denomination. Others offer plans that churches can purchase at a reduced rate. However, many small churches struggle to afford even these options. Check with your denomination first before you look into other options.
Individual Health Insurance Plans
Individual health plans are often the most expensive but they may offer the best coverage. In this case, a pastor would be wise to look into professional groups that offer discounted coverage to their members. Many self-employed people have formed groups that welcome pastors. Some insurance companies may offer special plans for clergy. Here are a couple of companies that fellow pastors recommended to me:
Golden Rule – UnitedHealthOne
Health Savings Account (HSA)
Another option is to establish a health savings account. This option requires the pastor to purchase a low-cost, high-deductible health plan. The pastor then establishes a special savings account to cover expenses until the deductible is met. There are several tax advantages to this plan and the money rolls over each year. So, if a pastor is relatively healthy they can accumulate enough money in a few years to cover any health emergency. Unfortunately, one major health crisis will wipe out the entire savings. If this crisis lasts for several years, as some do, a health savings account will be of little help.
The Affordable Care Act made health insurance an affordable reality for us. For several years, we qualified for very low-cost or even no-cost insurance. This made our checkbook much easier to balance, but it didn’t totally reduce our stress level. Getting insurance through Healthcare.gov was not simple. It was easy to fill out the forms, but the government bureaucracy meant that we were always having to jump through hoops. On two occasions, clerical errors by the marketplace delayed our tax returns by two months. Once, when we were supposed to have no-cost insurance, a marketplace error meant that we actually went the whole year without any insurance (thankfully, we didn’t have a claim). When the bureaucracy works, the marketplace can be a blessing – but how often does it work?
Medical Sharing Ministries
On social media I asked several pastors what they would recommend for affordable health insurance. The overwhelming response was for various medical sharing ministries. We were denied coverage by these types of ministries because of my wife’s breast cancer diagnosis (even though she had been cancer-free for several years). However, for those who did qualify, these pastors loved the affordability and simplicity of these ministries. Here are three ministries that pastors recommended (you can even contact some on Twitter to learn more).
Christian Healthcare Ministries
Use a Health Insurance Advisor
If you are completely lost in the health insurance jungle, it might be wise to hire a guide. There are lots of health insurance guides out there. Some are trustworthy and have a ministry focus, others are just out to make a sale. Be careful who you work with. Check their references and reviews. One such guide that was recommended to me is listed below. I have no personal experience with this person, so do your homework and make sure that you have a knowledgeable and trustworthy guide.
Churches, if you can afford it, one of the greatest blessings you can give your pastor is a high-quality, stress-free health care plan. Don’t make your pastor find his own coverage. That just adds to the stress of an already stressful job.
If you are creative, you can find ways to fund your church’s ministry and pay your pastor a wage that is biblically generous.