A couple of thoughts concerning Docket Item 0414-5

Last Friday I was going through Form 990s and didn’t expect to find anything major. I did.

Two Fridays ago I finally got around to read the full Docket for the April 2014 Judicial Council Meeting. Here’s how the final docket item, 0414-5, concludes:

Therefore, GCFA requests the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision that:

(1) The use of general agency funds to subsidize the premium costs for employees and their same-gender spouses enrolled in the GAWBP does not violate ¶ 806.9 of the 2012 Discipline, or in the alternative, that GCFA’s determination that such premium subsidies do not violate ¶ 806.9 of the 2012 Discipline is dispositive on this issue, and

(2) The use of general agency funds to subsidize the premium costs for employees and their same-gender spouses enrolled in the GAWBP does not violate any other provision of the 2012 Discipline.

Oh.

OK, I didn’t brief the Council on this Item. (To be honest, I could barely afford submitting the brief that I did.) I’m not even going to try to predict how this will turn out.

Actually, I can make one prediction that’s pretty safe: no matter what happens, the extreme traditionalists will insist that This is The Worst Thing to Happen to Christianity Since Judas Iscariot. No, Really, This Time We Really Mean It. No, Really, The Church Is Fighting To Survive In A Manichean Struggle That God Is About To Lose. (Of the following two choices, circle whichever one applies)

  • The Ultra-Liberal Judicial Council Has Refused To Stand Up To The Ultra-Liberal General Council on Finance and Administration. We Must Elect General Conference Delegates This Year (And Next) Who Will Teach The Judicial Council Who Is Boss.
  • The Reasonable And God-Fearing Judicial Council Has Wisely Stood Up To The Ultra-Liberal General Council on Finance and Administration. We Must Elect General Conference Delegates This Year (And Next) Who Will Teach The General Council on Finance and Administration Who Is Boss. (Then Again, Maybe That Judicial Council Was Not Emphatic Enough . . . .)

Is the above fair? Right now, I don’t know. I hope that subsequent events prove to the world that the above characterization is not fair.

In my opinion, the GCFA has a strong case. Even if the Judicial Council ultimately disagrees, the GCFA did the appropriate thing in requesting a declaratory decision.

The basis for my opinion is the legislative history of ¶¶ 612.19 and 806.9. I would summarize this history by saying that it is so utterly confusing, the GCFA’s determination has to be dispositive on the issue. (Note that this conclusion is based on the current Discipline and that a future General Conference could provide more definitive guidance.)

The legislative history of ¶¶ 612.19 and 806.9 is an important aspect of this case, but it’s also not the only aspect. The case could turn on esoteric aspects of health insurance. Health insurance in the United States had esoteric aspects five years ago, even before “Obamacare.” For example, see this FAQ concerning HIPAA.

I can’t comment meaningfully on these esoteric aspects. There’s one argument I first heard twenty years ago that I’d like to address. This argument might go something like this: “We can’t afford to expand coverage to include same-gender spouses! Think of the increase in costs!” Based on my (incredibly) limited understanding of HIPAA and group coverage, this is a non-issue.

Suppose each position on the organization chart is budgeted to pay benefits for only the employee. The employee’s age is not a factor in the plan expense. In a group plan, the cost for each individual’s insurance would be the same. If there were differences based on age, the employer could justify discriminating based on age. General agencies cannot discriminate based on age; see ¶ 716.1.

If an employer is going to meaningfully provide health insurance to an employee and their spouse, this cost has to be budgeted before the hiring process even begins. If paying for “two persons” is too expensive, why do it for anyone? This creates an incentive for hiring managers to hire persons because they are single and not because they are the most qualified.

Any cost differential in insuring same-gender spouses versus opposite-gender spouses has to come from an actual health insurance plan administrator providing a quote. To put this in other words — if only I had an editor! — I’m not convinced it’s more expensive to insure a same-gender spouse. Under a group plan, it might be the same cost. I can’t imagine this cost issue would be a pivotal argument in the instant case anyway. (It is strange though to think of health benefits for opposite-gender spouses as “promoting the acceptance of heterosexuality.”)

Maybe next month I’ll provide commentary after the Decision is announced.

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