ELCA NEWS SERVICE
March 2, 2007
ELCA Board of Pensions Proposes Wellness Plan in 2008
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Trustees of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Board of Pensions approved a proposal to move the church's health plan toward a wellness plan. The trustees met here Feb. 23-25 and took several actions, including proposed plan amendments for 2008 that will put greater emphasis on preventing illness and avoiding health risks.
Proposed changes in the health plan include only one preferred provider organization (PPO) benefits administrator -- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. The plan would retain Aetna Global Benefits for staff of ELCA Global Mission deployed outside the United States but would discontinue using other Aetna benefits programs.
"We are moving in our plan to a churchwide single vendor for the medical provider," said John G. Kapanke, president, ELCA Board of Pensions. The Board chose Blue Cross Blue Shield for its "stronger discounts and greater coverage for all of our members," he said. "Looking at the match across all of the states and the synods, we found that Blue Cross Blue Shield would be the strongest vendor."
The ELCA Board of Pensions is based in Minneapolis. It provides retirement, health and related benefits and services to 50,000 pastors and lay employees and their families. It serves nearly 11,000 congregations and other sponsoring ELCA organizations.
Mary S. Ranum, Circle Pines, Minn., trustee chair, said the main purposes for the health plan changes are "to emphasize the importance of our health and wellness initiative, and to design our health program to encourage and support the healthy behaviors of our members."
"I'm very excited about the changes in our medical plan," Kapanke said. "The move from a disease model to a wellness model is a major step for this church in our emphasis on overall health and wellness," he said.
"I continue to believe the emphasis on health and wellness for our leadership is one of the most critical strategic issues for this church. If we are successful in training and equipping our leaders and our future leaders to be healthy leaders," Kapanke said, "this church will be stronger in the future."
Among the health plan changes being proposed:
+ The plan will pay 100 percent for in-network preventive services, instead of 100 percent of costs up to $550 and 90 percent of costs more than $550.
+ Members and spouses will each have an opportunity to earn a $300 wellness reward by participating in health-improvement activities.
+ The individual annual deductible will increase from $350 to $600. The family deductible will also increase accordingly.
The health-improvement activities begin with plan members and spouses taking a confidential health risk assessment the Board has offered through the Mayo Clinic, Kapanke said. Other rewards are earned by following through on personalized recommendations on how to avoid health risks, he said.
If at least 75 percent of plan members in any of the ELCA's 65 synods participate in the health risk assessment, the organizations sponsoring the members in that synod may receive a 2 percent discount in the cost of health care coverage in 2008, Kapanke said. Sponsoring organizations are congregations or employers that pay a salary percentage toward the member's plan.
"As a self-employed individual without these benefits, I am almost envious of the opportunity that this plan offers," T. Van Matthews, Simpsonville, S.C., told the trustees' products and services committee, which he chairs. "In my world, there seems to be only one incentive that the insurer considers and that is to simply raise rates," he said.
"No one has ever called me with a concern about my health risk assessment. It is so good for our members to know that their employer cares and has a real reason to be interested in their health for all the right reasons," Matthews said.
"We have worked over the past number of years to move to a division of costs of 80 percent that the sponsoring organizations pay and 20 percent that our members pay through their co-pays and the other elements of the plan," said Ranum. "That is certainly appropriate and consistent with what is happening in the broader health insurance market," she said.
The ELCA Church Council must approve health plan changes the trustees proposed. The council meets here April 14-16. It acts as the ELCA's board of directors and serves as the legislative authority of the church between biennial churchwide assemblies.
The ELCA Conference of Bishops will review the proposal when it meets March 1-6 in Galveston, Texas. The conference is an advisory body of the church, consisting of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops, presiding bishop and secretary.
Kapanke reelected, 2006 investments impressive, kudos for audits
In other action the trustees unanimously elected Kapanke to another four-year term as president. His new term will end Sept. 30, 2011.
"When I announced John's reelection I said it was with great pleasure. That is indeed true," Ranum said. "John is a highly skilled, committed leader, and we have every confidence in his abilities to lead the Board of Pensions. He understands the relationship of the Board of Pensions to the ELCA," she said.
"It's an honor to serve this church and the Board and a wonderful board of trustees," Kapanke said.
Kapanke is a 1969 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and he holds an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Newberry College, Newberry, S.C. Newberry is one of 28 colleges and universities of the ELCA.
He worked as a financial analyst for Aid Association for Lutherans, Appleton, Wis. In 1973 he joined the Board of Pensions of the former Lutheran Church in America (LCA), Minneapolis, and served as senior vice president for investments.
When the LCA merged with the American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in 1987, Kapanke became president of the new ELCA Board of Pensions. He's a member of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, an ELCA congregation.
Trustees also reviewed the 2006 performance returns for funds in the ELCA Retirement Plan, in which returns were nearly double long-term expectations for several asset classes. "We reviewed the 2006 investment results, and they were very strong," Ranum said. "We have just about the best investment staff and investment management process that exists," she said.
The ELCA Board of Pensions trustees are fiduciaries in the management of $7.2 billion in assets. Of that behind-the-scenes work, Ranum added that one of the unsung heroes is the trustees' audit committee. Although the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 does not apply to the Board, she said the audit committee has kept it in compliance with the accounting and reporting standards required of public companies.
"That provides security for our members, to know that we are being very careful about our fiduciar