No Surprises Act

The No Surprises Act was enacted to protect health plan members from surprise billing after receiving certain services from out-of-network providers.

The WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan (the “Plan”) provides health benefits to eligible WELS/ELS workers and their eligible dependents.  The Plan is required by law to notify members of their protections against surprise billing under federal law.

You may view the WELS VEBA No Surprises Act notice by clicking this link.

Helping Workers and Organizations Prepare for the 2022 WELS Retirement Program Changes

Following the 2021 synod convention’s endorsement of the WELS Pension Plan freeze and transition to a defined contribution plan in 2022, WELS has produced the following three videos to help called workers and sponsoring organizations prepare for the upcoming changes.

The first video summarizes the upcoming WELS Retirement Program changes.

The second video provides called workers with an introduction to the WELS Shepherd Plan and how the new defined contributions can be used.

The third video provides sponsoring organizations with the actions to be taken to support their workers and the new defined contribution plan.

The following is a summary of the main actions for organizations and workers to take to prepare for the new defined contribution plan:

  1. WELS sponsoring organizations will need to join the WELS Shepherd Plan as of January 1, 2022 if they have not already;
  2. WELS sponsoring organizations should create participant accounts on the WELS Shepherd Plan website for their eligible workers who do not already have Shepherd Plan participant accounts based on their service at their current organizations; and
  3. Called workers should log in to their WELS Shepherd Plan participant accounts to verify demographic information, select investment allocations for their new defined contributions, and select beneficiaries.

The WELS Benefit Plans Office and the Hahn Financial Group are happy to help with questions that you may have regarding the upcoming changes. For questions regarding the new defined contribution plan and the WELS Pension Plan, including contributions and billing, please contact the Benefit Plans Office by calling 414-256-3299 or emailing bpo@wels.net. For questions regarding the WELS Shepherd Plan and how sponsoring organizations can enroll and create participant accounts, please contact the Hahn Financial Group by calling 1-800-516-4246 or emailing wels403b@hahnfinancialgroup.com.

In addition, a comprehensive “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) page, as well as a benefit comparison tool to help workers to compare their potential benefits at retirement under the current and new programs, are available at the links below.

2022 WELS VEBA Health Plan Limited Open Enrollment

WELS VEBA provides health benefits for workers at WELS and ELS calling bodies across the country.  The above video provides information on the important advantages of WELS VEBA.  A flyer highlighting the main points discussed in the video is available for download here.  We encourage you to share this video and flyer with fellow workers and leaders at your organization as you make future health coverage decisions.

The WELS VEBA Commission is pleased to offer a limited open enrollment for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan for the 2022 plan year.  The limited open enrollment is available to eligible workers at sponsoring organizations with at least one active worker enrolled in medical benefits under the WELS VEBA health plan.  Enrollment will open on November 1, 2021 and run through November 30, 2021.

If you would like to enroll in WELS VEBA or make a change to your current WELS VEBA coverage, you can do so via the WELS Benefits Service Center website at www.wels.bswift.com or by calling 1-800-487-8322 (option 1) beginning on November 1, 2021.  Please carefully consider this opportunity to enroll in WELS VEBA, as the VEBA Commission does not hold an open enrollment every year.

Importantly, the 2022 limited open enrollment will include a special enrollment opportunity for eligible workers to enroll for new or increased Group Term Life Insurance, without evidence of insurability, up to the following amounts: $150,000/employee, $25,000/spouse, and $5,000/child. This special enrollment opportunity for Group Term Life Insurance will be available from November 1, 2021 through November 30, 2021. Additional information regarding the 2022 limited open enrollment and WELS VEBA benefits is available in the 2022 WELS VEBA Benefits Guide.

The WELS VEBA Commission has also announced that the 2022 premium rates for WELS VEBA medical benefits will not change compared to the 2021 rates.  The Commission is pleased to provide this rate stability to help support WELS ministry efforts.  Please consult with your calling body or employer as you make changes in benefit coverage to discuss the impact on its financial resources and any additional financial obligation which you may incur.  WELS VEBA health plan rates for 2022 are available here on the Benefit Plans website.

2022 WELS VEBA Health Plan Rates

The 2022 premium rates for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan will not change compared to the current 2021 rates.  The 2021 rates for all WELS VEBA health plan options will remain in effect for 2022.  The WELS VEBA health plan has experienced better-than-expected claims costs and investment returns over the past two years, which has allowed the WELS VEBA Commission to not increase rates for 2022 while maintaining adequate reserves.  No significant changes to cost-sharing amounts (e.g., deductibles) or covered services are expected for the 2022 plan year.

This marks the second straight year with no premium rate increases.  Over the four-year period from 2019-22 WELS VEBA rates have increased by only 4%, which does not include the approximately $4.2 million in savings passed on to participating sponsoring organizations during the August 2020 WELS VEBA premium holiday.  The WELS VEBA Commission is pleased to provide this rate stability to help support WELS ministry efforts.

The WELS VEBA Commission approved a limited open enrollment for WELS VEBA medical benefits that will run from November 1, 2021 through November 30, 2021 for new coverage effective January 1, 2022.  Eligible workers serving at sponsoring organizations with at least one active worker enrolled in WELS VEBA medical benefits will have the opportunity to enroll for new coverage or make changes to their existing coverage.  Open enrollment materials will be mailed to eligible workers in late October.

In addition, workers who are eligible for the limited open enrollment for WELS VEBA medical benefits will have a special open enrollment opportunity to enroll for new or increased WELS VEBA group term life insurance through Sun Life without evidence of insurability up to the following amounts: $150,000/employee; $25,000/spouse; and $5,000/dependent child.  The life insurance special open enrollment will run from November 1, 2021 through November 30, 2021 for new coverage effective January 1, 2022.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Settlement

The WELS Benefit Plans Office understands that some WELS VEBA plan members have received a notification regarding the settlement of a lawsuit in which Blue Cross Blue Shield was a party.  The notification provides that individual plan members may have the opportunity to participate in the settlement and file a claim.

Resources are available from the settlement administrator, JND Legal Administration, to address questions about the settlement including the claim submission process and the amount of relief that certain class members may receive.  JND Legal Administration is the best resource for WELS VEBA plan members to contact for any questions related to the settlement, as the Benefit Plans Office cannot provide members with legal and/or tax advice or recommend any particular course of action in this matter.  Contact information for JND Legal Administration was included in the official notifications and is provided below:

Please feel free to contact the WELS Benefit Plans Office by email to bpo@wels.net or by calling 414-256-3299 if you have any questions.

Proposed changes to WELS retirement program 2021

June 2021 Update:  WELS held two webinars, one on June 3 and another on June 8, to inform 2021 synod convention delegates regarding the proposed changes and allow delegates to ask questions.  A replay of the June 8 webinar is available at this link.

A retirement strategy committee was appointed in 2017 and has done extensive research on the best options for providing future retirement benefits to workers. The committee has completed its work and recommends that some changes be made to the WELS retirement program.

In summary, it is proposed that the WELS Pension Plan be frozen and replaced with a defined contribution plan, wherein all eligible workers would receive contributions to individual accounts in the WELS Shepherd Plan to be used for retirement benefits. The proposed changes have been reviewed and endorsed by both the Conference of Presidents and Synodical Council.

The WELS Retirement Strategy Committee invites you to learn more about these proposed changes by viewing the presentation included above.

In addition to the presentation, a comprehensive “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) page is available here: FAQ page.

WELS has also developed a benefit comparison tool, which will help workers to compare their potential benefits at retirement under the current and proposed programs, and is available here: comparison tool.

The proposed changes will be a significant topic on the 2021 synod convention agenda. A resolution will be provided for the delegates to review, discuss, and vote on during the convention.  If the convention approves the resolution, it is anticipated that the proposed changes will be implemented as of January 1, 2022.  Information will be included in the Book of Reports and Memorials leading up to the convention.

It is important to note that, if the proposed changes are approved and implemented, all benefits earned under the WELS Pension Plan prior to its freeze date will be honored and paid according to the plan’s terms.  Benefits earned under the WELS Pension Plan will not be lost as a result of the proposed changes.

WELS is committed to providing detailed, transparent information during this process.  Please refer to the FAQ page which will be updated with additional information.  If you have any questions, concerns, or comments regarding the proposed changes, please submit them to WELS using the feedback form here: feedback form.

2021 WELS Benefit Plans Summary

The following provides a summary of the WELS Benefit Plans for 2021 and information to help newly-hired workers begin participating in the plans.

WELS VEBA

To participate in WELS VEBA, a new worker must enroll within 60 days of his/her employment start date.  To enroll, login to the WELS Benefits Service Center website at wels.bswift.com or call 1-800-487-8322 (option 1).

WELS Pension Plan

Participation in the WELS Pension Plan is automatic for called workers upon acceptance of a formal call issued by WELS.  Called workers do not need to complete an enrollment form to participate in the WELS Pension Plan.

WELS Shepherd Plan

Contact the calling body to which you have been assigned to determine if they have adopted the Shepherd Plan and to obtain enrollment instructions.

 

2021 WELS Pension Plan Contribution Rates

The 2021 contribution rates for the WELS Pension Plan will not change compared to the current 2020 rates.  Maintaining the 2020 contribution rates will adequately fund projected Plan benefits and expenses in 2021.

The WELS Retirement Program Commission is pleased to provide this rate stability to help support WELS ministry efforts while maintaining the Plan’s long-term viability.

 

Retirement Benefits and Housing Allowance for Ministers of the Gospel

Effective July 1, 2020, WELS announced a change in its interpretation of the workers who may be considered “ministers of the gospel” for federal tax purposes, which was based on a thorough investigation and legal opinion from a nationally recognized expert in this area of tax law.  Read the WELS announcement here.

Distributions from the WELS Pension Plan and the WELS Shepherd Plan to a participant who served as a minister of the gospel, for benefits earned under the Pension Plan or eligible contributions made to the Shepherd Plan based on that participant’s service as a minister of the gospel, may be excludable from taxable income as a housing allowance to the extent permitted by Internal Revenue Code section 107.

The announced change and corresponding minister of the gospel tax status apply to workers who perform service on or after July 1, 2020.  Therefore, benefits earned under the Pension Plan and eligible contributions made to the Shepherd Plan for service performed on or after July 1, 2020 by workers who may be considered ministers of the gospel (as determined by WELS) may be eligible for distribution as a housing allowance.  However, benefits earned under the Pension Plan and contributions made to the Shepherd Plan for service performed before July 1, 2020 by workers who were not considered ministers of the gospel (as determined by WELS) when that service was performed will not be eligible for distribution as a housing allowance.

Please feel free to contact the WELS Benefit Plans Office by email to bpo@wels.net or by calling 414-256-3299 if you have any questions.

WELS Pension Contribution Holiday – October 2020

The WELS Retirement Program Commission is pleased to announce a one-quarter contribution holiday for the WELS Pension Plan (the “Plan”). No Plan contributions will be due for the October-December 2020 quarter.  Active workers will continue to earn Plan benefits for eligible service performed during the October-December 2020 quarter, and Plan benefits will continue to be paid to retired workers and surviving spouses.

In addition, the July 2020 quarterly Plan invoices will be generated and mailed in early June to support ministries in their efforts to make timely retirement contribution payments under the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

During this uncertain time, the Commission is pleased to provide relief to WELS ministries that will total approximately $5 million in savings. In scheduling the contribution holiday for October 2020, the Commission’s goal is to provide relief as soon as possible while allowing ministries to realize the full benefits of any loans received under the PPP. In addition, the Commission is thankful to the Lord for blessing us with the financial flexibility to pass on these savings while maintaining the Plan’s long-term viability.

WELS ministries will receive additional reminders of the contribution holiday in the coming months.

If you have questions, please contact the Benefit Plans Office by e-mail at bpo@wels.net or by phone at 414-256-3299.