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.

 

WELS VEBA Premium Holiday – August 2020

The WELS VEBA Commission is pleased to announce a one-month premium holiday for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan (“WELS VEBA”). No premiums will be due for WELS VEBA medical benefits for the month of August 2020. Premiums for voluntary benefits, such as dental, life, and optional long-term disability, will still be due and payable for the month of August 2020, as will any premiums due for WELS VEBA coverage prior to August 2020.

During this uncertain time, the Commission is pleased to provide relief to our participating organizations that will total approximately $4.2 million in savings. In scheduling the premium holiday for August 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 federal Paycheck Protection Program. In addition, the Commission is thankful to the Lord for blessing WELS VEBA with the financial flexibility to pass on these savings while maintaining WELS VEBA’s long-term viability.

All sponsoring organizations that participate in WELS VEBA will receive communications in the coming months with more details and important items to note.

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

 

CARES Act and WELS VEBA Benefits

The WELS VEBA Commission has approved several enhancements to the WELS VEBA health plan benefits in response to COVID-19 and the ongoing public health emergency.  A summary of the enhancements is provided below.

  • WELS VEBA will cover, at 100% of the plan’s maximum allowable amount, eligible billed charges for the medically appropriate diagnostic test for detection of the virus that causes COVID-19 and for a provider visit that results in an order for the diagnostic test (including a provider visit that is obtained by telephone or the internet).  This benefit will be provided for the duration of the COVID-19 national public health emergency.
  • WELS VEBA will cover, at 100% of the plan’s maximum allowable amount, eligible billed charges for covered medical services to treat COVID-19 for a member who is diagnosed with COVID-19.  This benefit will be provided from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.
  • WELS VEBA will cover, at 100% of the maximum allowable amount, eligible billed charges for telephone and internet consultations obtained at Anthem LiveHealth Online providers.  This benefit will be provided from March 18, 2020 through December 31, 2020.
  • WELS VEBA will cover, up to the plan’s maximum allowable amount and subject to deductible and coinsurance, eligible billed charges for telephone and internet consultations obtained at providers that are not part of Anthem LiveHealth Online.  This benefit will be provided from March 18, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

 

New Website for Sponsoring Organizations

The Benefit Plans Office is pleased to introduce a new website with content dedicated for use primarily by sponsoring organization representatives, such as treasurers, business managers, and other organizational leaders. Visit the website at: https://resources.welsbpo.net.

Initial content includes information for organizations to prepare for the upcoming 2019 WELS VEBA limited open enrollment period, general information about the WELS Benefit Plans, and resources to assist organizational representatives in their year-round administrative activities. We encourage sponsoring organization representatives to use this new website as a primary resource and refer to it frequently.

Important Advantages of WELS VEBA

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 business of health coverage is now more confusing than ever, especially given the uncertainties brought about by health care reform.  As our church’s health plan and trusted resource for health benefits, you can rest assured that WELS VEBA will analyze the complex regulations to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and offer the best coverage at a reasonable price for WELS/ELS pastors, teachers, staff ministers, and lay workers.

By providing WELS VEBA to our workers and their families, calling bodies ensure stable, high-quality health coverage for the duration of our workers’ WELS/ELS ministries, regardless of where the Lord calls them to serve.

WELS Benefit Plans Office, on behalf of the WELS VEBA Commission

Anthem LiveHealth Online

Easy, fast doctor visits. All from the comfort of your own computer or mobile device 365 days a year.

LiveHealth Online is a new communications tool provided by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield that allows you to talk to doctors online by two-way video on a computer. Doctors can answer questions, make a diagnosis, and may prescribe basic medications (as legally permitted in certain states).

Highlights
  • It’s accessible. You can use LiveHealth Online at work, at home or anywhere you have computer access. You never need an appointment.
  • It’s fast. You can log in and talk to a doctor within a few minutes.
  • It’s flexible to meet your schedule. Doctors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • It’s private, secure, and you can typically select between several available board-certified physicians.
  • It’s affordable. The cost of a visit is $49, and will be applied to your WELS VEBA deductible and coinsurance amounts. If your deductible is met, you only pay the applicable in-network coinsurance.
  • It’s available to your entire family. Family and friends who are not covered under WELS VEBA can also use the service; they simply pay the full $49 for the visit.
  • It’s convenient. LiveHealth Online accepts payments via MasterCard, Visa, and Discover.
Common Symptoms That Can Be Treated Via LiveHealth Online
  • Cold & flu symptoms, such as a cough, fever and headache
  • Allergies
  • Bronchitis
  • Diarrhea
  • Family health questions
  • Headache/migraine
  • Hypertension
  • Pinkeye and other eye infections
  • Rashes
  • Sinus infections
  • Smoking cessation
  • Sprains and strains
  • Urinary tract infections

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Cyber Attack

As widely reported, Anthem, Inc. was the target of a sophisticated external cyber attack that occurred in December 2014 and January 2015. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield is the claims administrator for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan. Anthem has informed us that WELS VEBA members since 2004 may be at risk of unauthorized access to their confidential data.

Current and former WELS VEBA members are encouraged to visit Anthem’s cyber attack website at www.anthemfacts.com or call Anthem’s hotline at 877-263-7995 for up-to-date information on the attack and its impact on members, as well as instructions on how to utilize free credit monitoring and identify theft repair services.

The pages below provide updates sent to WELS VEBA members and calling bodies based on information provided by Anthem:

Initial Anthem announcement

We are informing all WELS VEBA members and former members that we are aware Anthem, Inc., the claims administrator for WELS VEBA, is the victim of a highly sophisticated cyber attack. Anthem has informed us that its member data was accessed, and could include that of our current and former members.

We are working closely with Anthem to better understand the impact on our members. Here is what we do know:

  • Once Anthem determined it was the victim of a sophisticated cyber attack, it immediately notified federal law enforcement officials and shared the indicators of compromise with the HITRUST C3 (Cyber Threat Intelligence and Incident Coordination Center).
  • Anthem’s Information Security has worked to eliminate any further vulnerability and continues to secure all of its data.
  • Anthem immediately began a forensic IT investigation to determine the number of impacted consumers and to identify the type of information accessed. The investigation is still taking place.
  • The information accessed includes member names, member health ID numbers/Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and employment information, including income data. Social
  • Security numbers were included in only a subset of the universe of consumers that were impacted.
  • Anthem is still working to determine which members’ Social Security numbers were accessed.
  • Anthem’s investigation to date shows that no credit card or confidential health information was accessed.
  • Anthem has advised us there is no indication at this time that any of our clients’ personal information has been misused.
  • All impacted Anthem members will be automatically enrolled in identity repair services. In addition, impacted members will be provided information on how to enroll in free credit monitoring.
  • We are continuing to work closely with Anthem to better understand the cyber attack and the impact on our members. Anthem has created a website: www.anthemfacts.com, and a hotline, 1-877-263-7995, for members to call for more information, in addition to a Frequently Asked Questions list that further explains the cyber attack.

We are closely monitoring any developments and will continue to keep you updated on Anthem’s ongoing investigation.

In Christ’s Service,

Mr. Joshua Peterman

Director of WELS Benefit Plans

Pension Late Payment Contribution Policy

Pension Plan Status

Like most investments, the Plan trust experienced significant losses during the market downturn of 2008-09. Although trust assets have rebounded they have not kept pace with benefits liability growth. The Plan continues to face two significant ongoing challenges: aging participant demographics and an uncertain global economy with volatile financial markets.
One of the most important benchmarks to evaluate the financial well-being of the Plan is its “funding status.” The funding status compares the present value of benefits earned by participants (i.e. “liabilities”) to the Plan’s current assets. The chart below shows that liabilities continue to rise at an increasing rate and the 2008-09 downturn caused a gap between assets and liabilities that recent investment gains and contribution increases have not been able to close.

click the chart to enlarge

(click the chart to enlarge)

Changes in 2014

In light of these circumstances, the WELS Pension Commission (the “Commission”) has taken several actions to improve the Plan’s funding status and maintain its long-term viability:

  • The Commission continues to invest Plan assets in funds with low volatility to protect against future market downturns.
  • The basis schedule on which Plan benefits are calculated for new retirees will remain flat for retirement dates through June 30, 2014 to slow the increase in liabilities.
  • Plan contribution rates effective January 1, 2016 will increase to $3,120 (+11.4%) for a full-time worker in 2016.
  • Contributions not made on time are subject to a late payment penalty.

The late payment penalty has been established to reflect the Plan’s lost investment earnings when payments are not made timely, which ultimately spreads additional costs to the organizations that pay contributions on a timely basis. To ensure that your organization in not assessed a penalty, we are providing a new Automated Clearing House payment program, under which the full amount due for each quarterly invoice will be automatically deducted from your organization’s bank account on the first business day of each quarter. Details regarding this program and the late payment penalty are available by clicking this link.

In this way, all parties are walking together and sharing in the funding needed to reinforce the Plan. This funding will be essential to pay the meaningful benefits promised to current retirees and earned by active workers. Your continued support of the Plan during these challenging times is greatly appreciated.

If you have questions regarding the Plan, please feel free to contact the WELS Benefit Plans Office by e-mail to bpo@wels.net or by calling 414-256-3860. Questions specifically regarding the late payment penalty should be directed to the WELS Benefits Service Center by e-mail to wels@bswift.com or by calling 1-800-487-8322 (option 1).