Florida Baptist church planters stress over health-care coverage

Health-care costs can cause problems for church planters and their fledgling congregations.As Washington begins to debate about whether it will try to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act, Florida Baptist church planters reflect on how they have managed to provide health care protection for themselves and their families, and how a decision on the Affordable Care Act could affect them.

Todd Peterson, pastor of the Pulse of Miami Church, purchases his health insurance on the federal government’s health care exchange page healthcare.gov.

“I’m basically on Obama Care, [but] the government doesn’t subsidize me,” Peterson said during a phone interview. “I go online, find the cheapest thing, and I get it.”

He says that providing health care for himself and church staff is tough.

“The only person who is on health insurance being paid by the church is me. My wife has insurance through her job. The kids are on Florida Kid Care.”

Peterson says that if the Affordable Care Act is repealed it will inconvenience him, but not significantly.

“Premiums are so high already so it’s not working all that well.”

In Jacksonville, Pastor Blake Bennett of The City Church receives health-care coverage through a cost-sharing ministry called Christian Healthcare Ministries.

Christians in the program voluntarily share each other’s medical bills, according to the website, which is quick to point out that the program is not health insurance.

Bennett and his wife heard about the cost sharing health organization through a pastor friend and decided to check it out. They currently pay $150 per month, and have a $500 deductible.

For them the cost sharing program works because, as Bennett explains, he and his wife are both healthy 20 year olds who don’t go to the doctor often. He also says that many times he will get reduced rates for medical care for being self-insured.

The only downside, he added, is that he and his wife had to personally bargain with doctor’s offices instead of having an insurance company do it for them.

Back in Miami, Derek Allen, the pastor of Christ Centered Church, says that purchasing a reasonable health insurance policy is important not only for his pocket but also for the church.

When Allen started Christ Centered Church a few years ago, the North American Mission Board gave him a monthly allowance of $1,000 that had to go toward paying for medical insurance. Today, that help is gone, and the Allens get their health-care coverage through Samaritan Ministries.

“It’s a medical cost-sharing group,” Allen said. “I was very skeptical about it at first, but it has worked well for us.”

Like Bennett’s cost sharing program, Allen has to do a lot of the leg work—like calling health-care providers to negotiate rates.

Under Samaritan Ministries, Allen sends in $498 a month to cover another family’s health-care needs with a letter of encouragement and support to that particular family. In return, Samaritan Ministries covers all of the pastor’s medical costs.

“My advice to church planters and supporting churches: It’s irresponsible to bankrupt your family [to follow God’s calling], and one way to do that is to not have medical insurance. So you might as well buy medical insurance in the beginning,” he said.

One way supporting churches can help church planters is by designating a portion of their monetary aid toward health insurance. That way, says Allen, the church planter knows he has to use that money for health insurance rather than new sound equipment or something else.

Also, he said, sending churches can keep church planters on the church’s health insurance policy for about a year and give the church planter an end date.

“What is important for me as a pastor is that I’m covered and cost is reasonable” said Peterson. “I’m looking for the best deal.”

Keila Diaz is the Miami-based reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness, the official news source of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She can be reached by phone at 305-724-0544, or via email at keila.diaz@gofbw.com

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