Day One: Regional Benefits Consultations

So, I never have attended a Regional Benefits Consultation with the Presbyterian Board of Pensions.    But with all of the controversy this year around the proposed changes to our healthcare plan (changes which upset me incredibly when I first heard about them!), I just had to come and offer my thoughts and input in person.  And the meeting is in Philadelphia, where I grew up, so this is a great opportunity to see the city again (for too short of a time).

One big kuddo I will give to the BOP is that they have been serving Tastycakes at the breaks, something I know is bad for us (and they told us we need to take good care of ourselves), but hey…everything in moderation right?!   I made a point of telling the staff at the BOP how much I appreciate this detail but that next time I come back I also want water ice.   The staff at the BOP seemed to think this was a good idea.  Water ice is healthier than Tastycakes.

Full disclosure:  They have also been serving healthy snacks and I ate two large servings of spinach tonight to cancel out the Tastycakes I might or might not have consumed around 2PM this afternoon.

The BOP is also anti-bottled water at their meetings, they refuse to have it around or offered, anywhere.  That’s a good thing.  I think bottled water is horrible so I liked this a lot too.

Today consisted of a few things:

  1. Pre-meeting presentation on the Benefits Plan and its various features you get as a plan participant.   It was long but very interesting.  I learned a bunch of stuff I didn’t know about our healthcare plan, our 403(b) and other benefits.    The slides for this presentation are here.   At first it just seemed like a sale’s pitch but as it went on I enjoyed it a great deal.
  2. Then we had a break for lunch.   My regional rep, Allison Seed found me and reminded me I had agreed to say grace for lunch.  She had emailed me last week and in my forgetfulness I thought I had agreed to saying grace at lunch tomorrow (Thursday), which wasn’t right.   So I said grace.  That seemed to go well.   Here is my grace.   Thanks Allison, that was nice of you to ask!
  3. Ok.  So then we had the loooonnnngggg afternoon.   We had worship.  Then Gradye Parsons gave a presentation on the state and future of the church which was very good. Comments from the BOP President.  Then a lengthy presentation on the status of our healthcare plan from VP Pat Haines (I give her points for stamina, wow.).  And then we had time for a break and then to talk with others about what we heard/are thinking and then for big group Q&A and feedback.  All the slides from these presentations are online and the BOP videoed everything and the videos will be online in a few weeks after the other RBC.
  4. Then dinner.

The issues:

Slide31

So, the BOP put up these two slides.  They detail in the millions how much is coming in and how much is going out from our healthcare plan.  What the deficits are.  And what the actuaries predict will be left in the fund reserves.   These are if we do nothing and stay as we are currently.  Note the drop off.

Slide32

And these are the options on the table right now:

Slide37 Slide38 Slide39

Slide36

A few take-aways from today:

  • At the beginning of the Q&A a young clergywoman (with an adorable baby on her hip) asked about she had issues with searching for a call when she’s got a baby, is married and another on the way.  So she “costs more” than a single person searching with Options B and C and could then be not hired as a result.   Those on the panel didn’t answer her question, just moved onto the next one.   I got up and about 10 questions later alluded to the same issue, used the word “discrimination” and said to the panel who at this point had indicated they hoped we’d talk about this issue in the talk back sessions tomorrow that I wanted them to respond today, and how to work with Presbyteries, etc. to address this problem.   The response was a few things:  1) They feel like they are to deal with the plan, and the Presbytery the issues like this one in the call process.  But there are no good answers on how to do this.  2)  Pat Haines, VP admitted that she is upset to hear a number of clergywomen talk about this problem of discrimination and she didn’t realize it is a such problem for us.  She’s Lutheran, BTW.   3)  There is no good answer for this issue.   This isn’t just with clergywomen of course, but all sorts of folks in the call process and the lack of protections, etc.   Ok, so that isn’t yet clear.
  • After we spoke (and I think another clergywoman did) a few men got up to speak as well about this issue.  One identified himself as a new grandfather, his daughter is a clergywoman.  He said he wants more grandkids but thinks that his daughter is being discouraged from having more kids by this situation and her employment viability.  And he wonders if marriage is being discouraged too, since that is a class of a dependent and so you cost more to a church searching.  He thinks we shouldn’t be discouraging babies or marriage.  A clergyman got up and talked about issues his wife, a clergywoman is facing.  And a few others did.  I was very impressed by this and I think that this sort of grassroots feedback is something the BOP clearly needed to hear.  They were listening carefully.   Pat Haines especially.
  • This all speaks to the reason to be here and give in person feedback.  I truly got the impression today that the BOP hasn’t ever had this much interaction with the members (us) and that this has changed how they think about what’s going on.  And today I saw that in the Q&A.  I have no evidence other than my one day here to back up that idea, but that’s the sense I got.
  • Other great things were brought up:  single-payer healthcare, plan parity, burdens on congregations, etc.   Various responses.
  • A lot of people felt that Option A is still our best bet because it keeps parity and equality.   A number of good arguments were made for this.

So tomorrow more time to talk, hear feedback from the BOP and then an update on our investments, etc.

I am very tired but feel like this was a very productive day.  I learned quite a few things I didn’t know.  And there is good energy here and I feel like everyone was listened to, even if where we are going is totally unclear.  A good day.

Sidenote:  I agree with the comment today from the Stated Clerk in my Presbytery: “If we had single-payer in this country, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”  That’s why our GA policy is for this.  Perhaps this whole thing will help us get back to our roots of activism and advocacy as Presbyterians for that justice and equity in healthcare not just for us but for everyone we are supposed to be seeking.  If we don’t start doing that, then I say shame on us for being selfish, and we are no longer doing what we say we believe in.  We need to get our own house in order to be sure, but we must at the same time get much more interested than we are so far in justice and equity in healthcare for others.

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One response

  1. Thank you Shannan for your excellent summary and reflections. Thank you for being an important voice at this meeting.

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