The Brethren Medical Plan Study Committee of the Annual Conference has asked Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) to help identify potential new sources of funding for the Church of the Brethren Medical Plan. At its spring meetings April 21-23 in Elgin, Ill., the BBT Board and staff spent time brainstorming possible ways to offset the ever-escalating costs of medical insurance, BBT said in a report of the meeting.
Several ideas were offered as starting points, and then small groups considered the merits of those ideas and possible alternatives. Board and staff struggled with how to increase participation in the Brethren Medical Plan and how to decrease expenses as medical costs continue to rise well beyond inflation, and as the average age of plan participants continues to rise.
The board received reports that indicate signs of promise. After losing $1.4 million in 2003 and 2004, the Brethren Medical Plan posted a modest net gain in 2005, with more premiums being received than claims being paid. The board also heard at least one possibility for how BBT may expand its customer base.
However, board members also heard that membership in 2005 declined from 819 to 746, not including spouses and dependents. This decline included 30 active employees and 43 retirees. Moreover, only two of the 23 Church of the Brethren districts now have at least 75 percent participation in the plan, which means that if such a requirement were to be implemented at this time most Brethren pastors and church staffs would be excluded from the Brethren Medical Plan.
“Given the 2005 Annual Conference resolution that called on congregations and church agencies to support the plan during the study period, this decline was a disappointment and is reason for continued concern,” BBT said.
The ideas, hopes, and concerns discussed during the brainstorming session were forwarded to the Annual Conference study committee, along with an offer from BBT staff for further meetings with committee members. In a report from earlier this year, the study committee had signaled that the denomination needs the Brethren Medical Plan to continue serving pastors and church staff, and called for re-evaluation of the proposed 75-percent participation requirement for districts. The committee also said it needs more than one year to examine the longterm viability of the plan and will seek an extension at this year’s Annual Conference.
In other business, the board heard that a number of BBT-related items will be considered at Annual Conference including its Articles of Organization and a resolution from Pacific Southwest District on “Divestment from Companies Selling Products Used as Weapons in Israel and Palestine”; added two new provisions to four existing guidelines for “hardship withdrawals” from the Pension Plan, namely expenses for the repair of damage to the participant’s principal residence, and payments for burial and funeral expenses for the participant’s deceased parent, spouse, children, or dependents; established six percent as the annuity interest rate on contributions made after July 1, 2003; and elected Nevin Dulabaum, BBT’s director of Communications, to the board of the Church of the Brethren Credit Union for a new three-year term. Dulabaum has been on the credit union board for six years and currently serves as vice-chair.
In decisions regarding investments, the board affirmed as a new bond manager Agincourt Capital Management, replacing West AM to invest one half of BBT’s Bond and Bond Core funds; approved redefining the investment strategy for the “core” portion of BBT’s Domestic Stock Fund and Domestic Stock Index Fund; and affirmed Calvert Social Investment Foundation as a continuing manager of BBT’s Community Development Investment Fund, which makes funds available for inner-city microloans. In the three years of the Community Development Investment Fund’s existence, Brethren investments have led to the building or rehabilitation of 70 affordable homes, the financing of 140 microloans (250 jobs) or 20 small business loans (112 jobs), and the financing of 25 community facilities.
The board received two screening lists as part of its socially responsible investing ministry: the top 25 defense contractors, and companies that make more than 10 percent of their gross sales from defense contracts. BBT’s investment policy prohibits it from investing in companies that are on either list. The lists are available by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more about BBT and its ministries go to http://www.brethrenbenefittrust.org/.