Then-House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi thanked the United Methodist Church by name as members of a coalition supporting Obamacare during a speech from the floor before passage of the legislation. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)
In March of 2010, a deal was struck with House Democrats that allowed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” as many have taken to calling it, to pass. In the moments before its passage, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor to thank supporters of the push for health care reform. As the IRD noted at the time, Pelosi specifically thanked the United Methodist Church (UMC): “Our coalition ranges from the AARP…to the American Medical Association, the Catholic Health Association… the United Methodist Church, and Voices of America’s Children.”
Perhaps it’s easy then to feel a bit of schadenfreude with the news that the same law the United Methodist General Board of Church of Church and Society (GBCS) pushed to passage in the name of providing health care may rob UMC employees of their health care. The UMC’s General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits has announced that lay employees and clergy may lose their health care coverage once the law goes into effect, due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act does not extend to church employees the same benefits that other low and moderate earners receive.
The Church Health Plan Act of 2013, a bill to allow churches to claim the same benefits as small businesses, has been introduced in the Senate by two Democratic Senators. Supporting the bill are the UMC and the Presbyterian Church (USA), which also supports the Affordable Care Act. The bill is also supported by the Church Alliance, which bills itself as “a coalition of the chief executive officers of 38 church benefit programs.”
The UM GBCS’s support of the Affordable Care Act, followed by the UMC’s desperate push for a change in law, mirrors a similar push in the U.S. Congress. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including the Democrats who voted for the act in 2010, were worried that their staff’s premiums would be set to spike due to language in the original bill that required congressional staffers to take part in health care exchanges. President Obama personally intervened, and over the weekend the Office of Personnel Management confirmed that staffers’ premiums can remain government-funded.
I don’t necessarily have an opinion on the merits of the Church Health Plan Act, or even exempting Congress from the Affordable Care Act’s health care exchanges. Health care policy is notoriously complex (especially the Affordable Care Act’s nearly 20,000 pages of regulations) and I don’t claim to be an expert. But the hypocrisy is glaring. Sure, churches and lawmakers who supported the Affordable Care Act are now pushing to change it. But more importantly, has the UMC or the PCUSA pushed for changes in the law to help the thousands of small business owners who will be forced to comply with onerous regulations? Or does changing the law only matter when their bottom line is at risk?
Less than a month before then-Speaker Pelosi praised the UMC for their advocacy for the Affordable Care Act, the Speaker made an even more famous and controversial remark: “…[W]e have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Well the bill passed with support from several mainline churches, and now they’re finding out what exactly they got.