By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (January 10, 2014) — Enrollment in the Bethany Benefit Service healthcare plan increased dramatically during open enrollment in December over the previous year, Elliott Johnson, controller for the Evangelical Covenant Church and assistant director of pensions, said today.
In December 2013, there were 17 new enrollees for the family plan and 10 for the individual plan among active employees and clergy, Johnson said. That compares with just one addition in December 2012.
In addition, December’s enrollment increase resulted from Bethany’s offering for the first time the opportunity for individuals to purchase just the dental and vision portions of the plan if a spouse’s coverage through another plan does not include those benefits, Johnson said. Sixteen retirees took advantage of the opportunity as did eight active clergy.
The increased enrollment numbers amounted to one of the largest-ever single-month totals, Johnson said.
The Bethany program provides coverage for pastors, employees of local Covenant churches and regional conferences, conference centers and camps, Covenant pastors who work for voluntary participating employers of the Covenant Pension Plan, and denominational offices. Medical/dental coverage is available to employees who work a minimum of 20 hours a week.
The plan covers approximately 1,400 pastors, retirees, and employees, 820 spouses, and 1,400 children.
The enrollment increase was due in large part to people’s uncertainty about changes in the insurance market as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Johnson said. He added that Bethany’s rates and benefits compare favorably to those available in the Exchange Marketplace established by the law.
The Bethany plan includes medical insurance, dental insurance (including orthodontia), a prescription drug benefit, life insurance, long-term disability insurance, and a vision benefit. “Many other plans do not incorporate such a comprehensive array of benefits,” Johnson said.
Under the ACA, there are four levels of insurance coverage: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The difference among the levels is the amount of premium and expenses paid by the insurer. People enrolled in the bronze plans will pay the lowest premiums, but the amount of expenses paid by insurance (60 percent) will be less. The silver plan will cover roughly 70 percent, the gold will pay 80 percent, and the platinum will cover 90 percent.
All of the plans must cover a set of basic services, such as prescription drugs, maternity care, mental health services, and emergency room visits.
Bethany pays roughly 86 percent, Johnson said, and offers other advantages as well.
Bethany’s annual and lifetime maximums exceed the limits set by law.
Benefits are offered on the first day of employment rather than the 90-day waiting period allowed under the act.
The deductible of $300 for single coverage and $600 for family coverage is less than most plans.
No one is disqualified for pre-existing conditions.
Individuals with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level who purchase insurance plans via an exchange will be eligible to receive federal subsidies to help pay premium costs.
Johnson notes that Bethany has outperformed other medical plans. It was able to freeze medical and dental premiums for next year at 2013 rates. Rates also were frozen in 2005.
Over the last 10 years, Bethany’s rates have increased about 4.5 percent each year, while rates in the rest of the market have more than doubled (increased 142.4 percent) over the same 10-year period.
The health insurance and prescription drug co-pays and deductibles remain unchanged. Rates for life insurance and long-term disability likewise remain the same. They have not changed for several years.
In addition, Bethany has given a June premium holiday for two of the last 10 years, which resulted in more than $2 million in premium savings for Bethany customers.
Although open enrollment normally closes in December, it has been extended to March 31 for this year.
Anyone interested in enrolling or who has questions should email Christina Kempe, supervisor of Bethany Benefit Service, or call her at (773) 907-3376.