Health Insurance: Taking Care of Synagogue Employees

Health insurance-it does have its challenges today, even with a plan with great coverage. But for the majority of Americans, it is certainly better than it was just a few years ago.

The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) has given more people access to health insurance. The ACA has covered millions more than had health insurance prior to the passage of this important legislation. 3 million young adults through age 26 are now covered by their parents’ health insurance policies. Another 3 million have been enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And another 5 million people have enrolled in private plans that meet ACA standards outside of the Health Insurance Marketplaces.

These are just three examples of the positive outcomes that have come about through the ACA. There is certainly more that can and should be done.

Since Maimonides, health care for everyone – and access to it – has been an important Jewish value. It is the realities of health care insurance costs that have certainly made practicing such a value when it comes to providing health insurance coverage to synagogue employees a bit of a challenge.

Synagogues are all over the map with their health insurance coverage of their employees. A couple of weeks ago, I was reading an online discussion regarding health insurance coverage provided to synagogue staff. Some synagogues were providing coverage for just the individual employee. A few seem to be providing family coverage. The people commenting also shared that the portion of the premium costs to synagogue employees was in the range of 15-25 percent.

I am sure that there are many congregations that would love to provide health insurance coverage to their employees as well as their families. They just don’t have the money in their budgets to provide such a benefit. We all read about how health insurance premiums are only increasing each year. Maybe the ACA and the focus on cost containment might slow down such increases. And as I, and others, have written about before, we want our synagogue budgets to allow us to do more in terms of engagement and growing our congregations.

If your synagogue is providing any synagogue employee an amount of money to subsidize or cover the cost of participation in an individual plan through an ACA health insurance exchange, unfortunately such reimbursement is taxable income. If you cover the costs of their participation in a group plan, like that of AARP or your local Chamber of Commerce, and the synagogue pays its portion directly to the sponsoring organization, no one has any tax liability.

How about if the synagogue provides a subsidy to underwrite the costs of a spouse’s group health insurance plan? There are certain required steps that need to be taken, but such a subsidy is not taxed.

As always, it is important to consult with an accountant. Even though your insurance broker might not be the provider of your synagogue’s health insurance, he/she should also be aware of the dos and don’ts regarding subsidies and what is considered taxable for the synagogue employee.



4 Comments on “Health Insurance: Taking Care of Synagogue Employees

    • Hi John,

      As always, many thanks for your comments.

      Through NATA, and even through your contacts at neighboring churches, are you aware of synagogues or churches that have gone the ACA route in terms of health insurance? How do you provide health insurance at Shir Tikvah?



  1. My big question about health insurance for synagogue employees is this: why can’t our movements (URJ, USCJ) purchase group plans for us. The church movements do so (ie the Presbyterian church has all employees in a local presbytery in the same plan). Or, could we come under a local Federation’s plan? I am sure this would afford synagogue’s better coverage at lower cost. What are the roadblocks/hurdles to doing so? Which are surmountable? Which aren’t?

    • Hi Daniel,

      I believe the URJ created a health insurance trust and tried to put together a group of synagogues to participate. A number of the larger synagogues – that were key to making the plan work because of the number of employees – had better coverage through their plans at that time so the critical mass of people required could not be met. The USCJ did a survey of its member synagogues last Spring.

      Back in June 2012, I wrote about in a blog on this topic that the Columbus Jewish Federation acts as the convener for such a plan for Federation agencies and Columbus area synagogues. Has the ACA impacted positively or negatively what your synagogue is doing in terms of health insurance coverage for its employees?

      Thanks again for raising these important questions.



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