Retiree benefits proposal: similar care, lower cost

By Amy Forbus Editor The group examining retiree health benefits in the Arkansas Conference believes they’ve found a way to turn a lose-lose-lose situation into a win-win-win. A proposal coming before the 2014 Annual Conference has the potential to decrease out-of-pocket medical expenses for retired clergy and their dependents, reduce liability for the Arkansas Conference and trim the amount local churches pay to support retirees, all while still assuring they continue to receive the care they need. Finding a new direction for ARUMC health benefitsThe Rev. Dennis Spence, chairperson of the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, said that Stephens, Inc., the consultant hired to evaluate the Conference’s current health insurance situation, confirmed that it is unsustainable. “We’re trying to get out; we’re just trying to do it with dignity,” he said. The proposed replacement for the current retiree health plan involves transitioning retired clergy from the Conference’s retiree health plan to a combination of Medicare Part D, for prescription coverage, and Part F (formerly called Medi-Pak), to supplement basic Medicare. Spence presented in March to a group of clergy who are retiring at this year’s Annual Conference, outlining the situation and sharing recommendations for moving forward. He said the proposal received positive feedback from attendees. “We’re recommending that they get onto a plan that’s most like ours,” he said. As part of the replacement proposal, retirees who have served full-time appointments within the United Methodist Church for at least 10 years, the last five years within the Arkansas Conference and in its insurance plan, would receive a monthly gift to go toward payment of their Medicare supplement premium. Years of service would affect the amount of the monthly gifts, with the maximum set at $200 for a retired clergyperson and $150 for a spouse. “Our hope is that the cost savings on each person’s coverage will provide the cash flow to start Healthcare Reimbursement Accounts,” said Mona Williams, benefits officer for the Conference. A Healthcare Reimbursement Account can be set up with automatic deductions to pay premiums for Medicare Parts D and F. Williams said that if the proposal is approved, her office will guide retirees through the transition. “In many ways, Plan F is better than our existing plan because it covers most, if not all, of Medicare’s deductibles and coinsurance,” she said. “It also includes a free membership in the SilverSneakers Fitness Program.” The full proposal should be available for review by May 10 at If approved by the Annual Conference, the transition from the Conference retiree benefits plan to the Medicare supplement-based plan would take effect Jan. 1, 2015.