U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) have introduced legislation to allow thousands of clergy and church employees to receive access to affordable and reliable health care coverageunder the Affordable Care Act. The Church Health Plan Act closes a loophole that could result in church-run health plans being penalized because they are not deemed "qualified health plans" under the Affordable Care Act.
"Like the measure I supported to reduce the tax paperwork burden on small businesses, this is a step we can take to strengthen the Affordable Care Act to better meet the needs of health consumers," Senator Coons said. "I've heard from dozens of faith leaders in Delaware concerned that they may be penalized because of this provision in the Affordable Care Act, and that as a result, church employees may lose their insurance. This legislation allows church employees to continue to receive employer-sponsored health coverage that they already have and would like to keep. Fixing this issue is common sense, and will give clergy and church employees the same opportunity as other Delawareans to access the health care coverage that best meets their needs."
The Affordable Care Act requires health plans offering coverage through an exchange to be open to the general public, but federal law prohibits church health plans from offering benefits to anyone other than clergy and lay employees of churches and closely affiliated organizations. Similarly, while the Affordable Care Act requires plans offering coverage through an exchange to be licensed under state law, federal law also exempts church health plans from state licensing laws and regulations. As a result, participants in church health plans cannot access many of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and churches may incur individual-mandate penalties for not offering employees access to a "qualified health plan."
The Church Health Plan Act would allow church health plans that meet the requirements of a "qualified health plan" to be deemed equivalent, thus fulfilling the Affordable Care Act's coverage mandates.
This bill is supported by the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Church Alliance -- a coalition of 37 church-benefit boards covering mainline Protestant denominations, two branches of Judaism, and Catholic schools and institutions. The members of the Alliance provide health care benefits for more than one million clergy and lay workers.