220th General Assembly authorizes study of health insurance companies

July 7, 2012

Pittsburgh

The 220th General Assembly (2012) has called for a study of health insurance companies to determine if their practices conflict with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s support for universal health care access.

In an action taken early Saturday morning (July 7), the Assembly directed the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) to examine insurance companies’ lobbying expenditures, political campaign contributions, profit margins, premium increases and the percentage of claims that are denied.

If the analysis determines that corporate practices are inconsistent with the PC(USA)’s principles of universal access and affordability, MRTI is to assess the likelihood of change in corporate behavior and recommend a response to the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (formerly General Assembly Mission Council). MRTI’s recommendation could include divestment of the church’s holdings in health insurance companies.

The issue was brought to the Assembly from its Health Issues Committee and was raised initially in an overture from Mid Kentucky Presbytery. The committee’s recommendation closely resembled an alternative resolution proposed by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. The Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation without discussion.

In 2008, the GA endorsed a single payer health care system as the best way to achieve universal health care access. The action taken this year urged the denomination’s Office of Public Witness and other Presbyterian bodies to continue working for a single payer system.

Acting on another recommendation from the Health Issues Committee, the Assembly directed the Office of Public Witness to “support full access to reproductive health care” in both public and private insurance plans. It also called for “more generous paid family and medical leave policies” and for strengthening family life of working parents by improving the availability of quality childcare and preschool programs. In addition, the action encourages Presbyterians to support programs aimed at reducing unintended pregnancies.

The Assembly rejected an amendment proposed by Justin Marple, a teaching elder commissioner from Western New York Presbytery, that would have stricken the references to reproductive health care access, but would have kept the items related to family planning and reducing unintended pregnancies.

Marple said he was attempting to remove issues that could cause division in the church. “Let us be united and not be divided,” he said. “Let us say what we can say together.”

In response, Health Issues Committee member Benjamin Perry, a young adult advisory delegate from Hudson River Presbytery, said the committee “worked hard to create some common ground in a committee that was divided.”

Perry argued that abortion was not the issue being addressed in the committee’s recommendation. “It advocates the fundamental right of every human being to have access to the health care they so desperately need and deserve,” he said.

In other action related to health issues, the 220th General Assembly:

--Directed the church’s six agencies to develop a plan to train all entity staff, Presbyterian Mission Agency members and GA commissioners in disability awareness and inclusion.

--Approved a commissioners’ resolution that urges presbyteries to teach ministers how to help veterans who suffer from military-related post-traumatic stress/traumatic brain injury.

--Disapproved a commissioners’ resolution that would have directed the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Theology and Worship to “write a foundational paper” related to issues surrounding crisis pregnancies and abortion and would have asked denominational researchers to survey Presbyterians about their attitudes on the issue.

In disapproving the resolution, the GA adopted a comment submitted by the Health Issues Committee that affirmed the church’s 1992 report on problem pregnancies and abortion. That report says abortion can be a “morally acceptable” decision under certain circumstances, including rape or incest, severe physical or mental deformity, or if the physical or mental health of either the woman or child is “gravely threatened.”

--Commended the efforts of Johnson C. Smith Seminary related to its training of church leaders in AIDS ministry and the work of the Presbyterian AIDS Network for its prophetic witness. The action asks the Presbyterian Mission Agency to establish an Extra Commitment Opportunity account dedicated to preparing church leaders to help congregations be more effective in AIDS ministry.

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