Presbyterian Church takes step toward divestment from for-profit health insurers
By Johanna W.H.van Wijk-Bos
Healthcare not Wealthcare, July 7, 2012
[PNHP note: Johanna W.H.van Wijk-Bos' advocacy statement for the Assembly's action is appended below.]
Today the Presbyterian Church (USA) took a step toward divestment from for-profit health insurance companies in the United States by instructing the appropriate committee of the General Assembly to begin a process of information gathering. The Mission Through Responsible Investing Committee (MRTI) is instructed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to request information and explanations of health insurance companies.
This information will focus especially on the insurers’ practices in regard to state and federal lobbying expenditures and political campaign contributions, government subsidies and profit margins, denials of claims, and top executives’ compensation packages. Other directives include a conversation with the Board of Pensions, the overseeing body that works with the health care provider, to ensure that the church’s health plan submits to the same standards that it asks of other insurers. Based on its analysis MRTI will evaluate the variance between church principles of universal access and affordability on the one hand and corporate objectives on the other. It will also assess the likelihood of significant change in corporate behavior.
In addition, the committee is to recommend measures to the appropriate Council of the church, including possible divestment from the health insurance companies, measures that will strengthen the integrity of the church’s practice. The relevant committees and councils are requested to report on their action to the General Assemblies of 2014 and 2016, with an eye to guiding individual Presbyterians, congregations and mid-councils, in relation to their own investment holdings in this major part of the economy.
Finally, all official bodies are encouraged to continue to support cost-effective health coverage for all through the single payer (or expanded Medicare) model common elsewhere in the developed world, and to support making health care affordable and transparent.
The overture for this step originated with the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, was joined by the Presbyteries of Albany, New York City, Long Island and West Jersey, and was approved overwhelmingly by the Committee on Health Issues of the General Assembly on July 3, 2012.
Johanna W.H.van Wijk-Bos is Dora Pierce Professor of Bible – Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and Minister member of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
21-01On Instructing MRTI to Study and Report Corporate Practices of Health Insurance Companies and Possible Divestment of Same—From the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky.
Source:Presbytery Sponsor: Mid-Kentucky Presbytery
On this Item, the General Assembly, acted as follows:
Approve as Amended
In response to Item 21-01, that the 220th General Assembly (2012) approve the following alternate recommendation:
“1. The MRTI Committee is instructed to request information and explanations of health insurance company policy and practice on: state and federal lobbying expenditures and political/campaign contributions, government subsidies and profit margins related to provisions of the healthcare ‘reform’ legislation, aggregate data on increases in premiums and deductibles over the past ten years, categories and percentages of claims denied, and percentages of profits used in compensating top executives in comparison with return to shareholders.
“2. The MRTI Committee is instructed to be in conversation with the PC(USA) Board of Pensions to ensure the PC(USA) health plan submits to the same standards that PC(USA), through MRTI, asks of other insurers.
“3. Based on this corporate engagement and analysis, a summary of which shall be posted, MRTI is asked to evaluate the variance between church principles of universal access and affordability and corporate objectives, to assess the likelihood of significant change in corporate behavior, and to recommend to the GAMC and General Assembly measures, including possible divestment, that would strengthen the integrity of the church’s practice.
“4. The GAMC, the Presbyterian Foundation, and the Board of Pensions, in turn, are requested to report on their actions (or request guidance) to the 221st and 222nd General Assembly (2014) and (2016), with an eye to guiding individual Presbyterians, congregations, and mid councils in relation to their own investment holdings in this major part of the economy.
“5. The Office of Public Witness and other Presbyterian bodies are encouraged to continue to support cost-effective health coverage for all through the single payer (or expanded Medicare) model common elsewhere in the developed world, and, to support making health care affordable and transparent.”
By Johanna W.H.van Wijk-Bos
Presented by Johanna W.H.van Wijk-Bos, Overture Advocate on overture 21-01 from Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, before the Health Issues Committee of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), July 3, 2012, Pittsburgh, Pa., David Lawrence Convention Center.
Thank you, Madam Moderator, for providing this opportunity to speak to the overture before us and advocate its passing. My name is Johanna Bos, Teaching Elder member of the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, the Presbytery that elected me to be the Overture Advocate during its meeting on September 17, 2011.
You are familiar with the overture, for which the background is the 2008 endorsement of Single Payer health care reform by the General Assembly.
Clearly, I am for it, I would not be here otherwise, so in preparing for the meeting today, I thought about what would be the best advocacy. I could recite a great deal of facts, huge profits on the part of the health insurance companies, escalating premiums, declining access, the lamentable state of actual health care in the United States, the maternal death rate rising by 25 percent in the last 10 years while globally maternal death rates are declining, infant mortality rates and so on, racial and gender disparity … the list goes on and on.
There is an overview here on the resource table for your interest and much of it is described in the rationale and background materials of the overture. I lift out only the last sentence of the document: “The only way for the health insurance companies to make a profit for their shareholders is to find ways not to pay for the care of the sick. This is the basic flaw in for-profit health insurance. … They add no social value to justify their profits and the negative effects they inflict on the entire medical system.”
So there are lists and statistics that clearly go against the mandates of our faith and institutions. Then I thought about the Bible, I am a teacher of Bible after all, and how the Bible often teaches through story. Jesus went around as a healer and teacher and taught through stories, stories that people recognized and identified with, stories in which they recognized themselves.
Long before the time of Jesus, when King David had gone off the rails, God sent the prophet Nathan who told the king a story. The story Nathan tells is not one of adultery, or rape or even directly murder, but it is about theft and misuse of privilege by a rich man, a great benefactor for a guest who comes to visit and who does not ask where the gift he receives came from.
So then I thought the best thing I could do is to tell my story, because it may help us forward. Not that I think of myself as a prophet but I do believe the overture asks our denomination to take on a prophetic task.
The overture that you have before you was written by my husband, whose name was also David, who believed strongly in a Church that calls society and government to its responsibilities of caring for the weakest among us first of all. He would have stood before you today, had his sudden and unexpected death in February of last year not robbed us of his presence.
As he lay in the hospital, struggling with the oxygen mask provided to give his lungs the air they needed, he spoke haltingly what would be his last words on this earth: “How much will this cost?” He died six days later.
Three weeks after his death a representative from our health insurance company informed me in a telephone call that they rejected the claim to pay for my husband’s hospitalization and medical costs because of a “pre-existing condition.”
How much will it cost? The existing problems are clear, our mandate is clear, so how much will it cost our denomination to continue on the path we have started on? It will cost us only the courage to stand up and investigate where the money lavishly earned at times and lavishly spread around, also to us as a denomination, where this money is coming from, and how it is gained.
I can think of few issues going to the core of who we are as a Christian community that are of greater importance. We have the opportunity to let our light shine before the world. Let us take this chance.
Madam Moderator, Madam Vice-Moderator, members and facilitators of the committee, I thank you for your attention and cede the rest of my time to my co-advocate, Bebb Stone from Albany Presbytery.