The WELS Benefit Plans Office is addressing concerns over the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which mandates that plans pay 100 percent of the cost of "preventive health services," including pre- and post-conception contraceptives.

In a letter being sent this week, Mr. Joshua Peterman, director of WELS Benefit Plans, explains that health plans established or maintained by religious employers are exempt from this mandate. However, as Peterman notes, “The government’s definition of ‘religious employer’ for this purpose is very narrow. It does not extend to certain religiously affiliated organizations, such as hospitals, colleges, and other organizations that make their services available to the general public.”

Peterman goes on to say that the federal government has implemented a one-year non-enforcement safe harbor applicable to the health plans of these church-affiliated entities. All participants in WELS’ Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association (WELS VEBA) are either exempt from the mandate as religious employers or qualify for safe harbor through 2013.

“Benefits provided under WELS VEBA will remain compliant with the health care reform law and also remain in accord with our doctrine,” says Rev. Mark Schroeder, WELS president. “Until the picture becomes clearer, congregations are strongly encouraged to continue their participation in WELS VEBA and not make any hasty changes to the health care plans offered to their workers.”

The WELS Benefit Plans Office will continue to monitor developments related to the Affordable Care Act.