Typically, ministers and military personnel have at least one thing in common: we know how to move, and we know that it is likely we will move several times during our careers.
In some ways, these moves are similar. Our families are uprooted (or they are forced to change our entry in the family address book), our houses are littered with boxes and packing paper and we must say “goodbye” or “until we meet again” to friends and co-workers. But, for some in the branch of service called “ministry”, there is a very different component to such wanderings, especially when a move sends us to another state – in other words, we must search anew for health insurance.
This year, my husband and I embarked on such an interstate journey, leaving a beloved community behind and heading into the great unknown of new church, new city, new house…and new healthcare. While I was excited about this new call, the healthcare question left me in a full-blown state of the jitters. My denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has a health care program for its ministers and church employees – but this plan is rather expensive. As is the case in most denominations, a large percentage of our ministers are older and often in need of considerably costly healthcare, and this means that younger ministers and their families take on a portion of those higher costs in order to care for the many.
This arrangement is a worthy sacrifice in the quest to care for so many of God’s servants – but it is also one that is sometimes impossible for younger, lower-paid ministers who bear the additional burden of substantial student loan debt (ah, the price of seminary!) and high-dollar rent. Many ministers just can’t make their budgets work without finding insurance through different providers.
As one of those under-paid and highly indebted ministers, I had made the decision a couple years ago to leave the denominational plan and join one of the larger insurance giants. It grieved me to do it, but at the same time I could insure both myself and Chuck for nearly the same price as individual coverage in the church-wide plan. With the state of our budget, that decision was a no-brainer.
But joining the behemoth had its costs. In the time that we were at my old church, Chuck and I had developed some health issues – and though they were relatively minor, when the time came to apply for new insurance in a new state, we were stamped with the pariah-mark: “pre-existing condition.” On top of that, the program in our new state would only offer maternity coverage if we purchased the most expensive plan and waited for two years before conceiving. Apparently, being a woman of child-bearing age is, in and of itself, a pre-existing condition.
I was crushed. I was angry. I was dumbfounded and terrified. And I was privileged. For, in the middle of all the nonsense, my new congregation was paying me a living wage, AND they would pay a huge portion of any plan I chose, AND the companies still deemed me worthy of insurance (albeit insurance at a high price) – a right that everyone has but so many are denied.
Ultimately, my husband and I rejoined the ranks of those insured by our denomination’s plan. While they are more expensive in some ways, they don’t penalize for pre-existing conditions and they treat pregnancy as a natural part of human life (just as illness is a natural, though unwanted, part of our existence). We are covered, and we are grateful for it.
Still, this experience leaves me with so many questions and so much outrage. What about the millions of people who can’t afford or gain approval for coverage of any kind? And what about the members of my own congregation who pay for my care but can’t afford care for themselves and their families? As one who bears the yoke of justice-seeking for all of God’s children, I find no justice in this arrangement despite the relatively happy resolution of my own situation.
The facts of the matter are these:
- Until maternity is no longer considered a disease, I am not well.
- Until people who are sick are treated as human beings instead of being “othered” by labels like “pre-existing condition,” I am not healthy.
- Until all can receive good and affordable healthcare, I am not whole.
God of healing and wholeness, let that day come…
(This essay was originally published on November 5, 2009 in the Divine Details column of Fidelia’s Sisters, the online journal of the Young Clergy Women Project. You can read this essay and more articles by young clergy women from a variety of denominations by visiting www.youngclergywomen.org )