Today the Presbyterian Church (USA)(2.3 million members) took a step toward divestment from for-profit health insurance companies in the US 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 and Faculty Liaison for the Women's Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where she has taught for the past 35 years. Ordained to the gospel (more...