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UUA Health Plan Introduces Low-Premium Option for 2014

November is open enrollment month for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Health Plan, just as it is every year. But this year there's a twist. Congregations and other eligible organizations have the opportunity to compare the UUA's health plan options with those offered by the federal Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

When the UUA Health Plan was organized in 2007, it was the only viable option for many congregations. Now, for the first time, the health care exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provide an alternative that congregations can choose to look at. To compete with the ACA's low-premium, high-deductible plans, the UUA is introducing its own bronze-level option.

Jim Sargent, director of the UUA Health Plan, believes the UUA Heath Plan will fare well against the ACA. "My opinion is that very few congregations will make a switch," he said. "There are too many uncertainties with the ACA. People have a tendency to wait and see if something will work. I think they'll give it a year to see how it's actually working."

He added, "If you look at the ACA it's hard to tell whether the insurance companies that are offering plans through it are pricing them accurately or pricing them to get business. If it turns out to be the latter, then there could be significant rate jumps in 2015. That's a big unknown at this point.

"We think that congregations will be in a holding pattern on insurance for 2014," Sargent continued. "If there is going to be a significant movement to the ACA, it will be in 2015. We're going to be watching this closely. The really interesting article will be the one written a year from now. At that point we'll know how the exchanges are doing and whether people like those plans."

He noted there are 920 subscribers to the UUA Health Plan and around 1,600 total people covered. "We have twice as many people enrolled as we need to make the UUA plan viable. There's just no scenario where enough congregations would drop out, leading to a lack of stability."

The UUA plan also has a religious advantage, he observed. "We like to think that people will pay attention to the fact that we have crafted a plan that reflects our denominational values. We've been leaders in adopting women's health care provisions, plus benefits for same-sex couples. We feel we're living up to our Unitarian Universalist (UU) values in these plans and we believe congregations appreciate that."

New Option. This year the UUA plan added a "Bronze Level High Deductible" option, modeled after the most common bronze plans sold on the new ACA insurance exchanges, where plans are rated as platinum, gold, silver, and bronze. Sargent said the UUA's bronze option will be priced about 40 percent below the UUA's standard plan. It offers 100 percent coverage for in-network preventive services plus a $4,000 annual deductible for individuals and a maximum individual out-of-pocket amount set at $6,350.

"Many people had asked for a plan that offers a lower cost while still providing adequate protection against large claims," said Sargent.

If a congregation participates in the UUA Health Plan, all eligible employees must be offered coverage. Congregations are not required to contribute the same percentage of premium for employees, but should review the UUA's Fair Compensation Benefit Guideliness to see what is recommended. All employees who are projected to work at least 750 hours should be covered.

For 2014 the base rate of the UUA plan is increasing by 9.3 percent. In the standard plan office visit co-pays will now count toward the out-of-pocket maximum in an effort to ease the burden on people with large claims. The plans take effect January 1.

The Office of Church Staff Finances has full information on its website about how congregations can go about choosing a health care plan. Included are "Health Care Reform Alerts" designed to educate congregational leaders about developments with the Affordable Care Act. The deadline for enrolling in a UUA health plan is November 27, the last business day before the Thanksgiving holiday.

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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