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August 23, 2021

Feeling Grateful: My Employer Gave Me the Opportunity To Choose a Health Benefit Option That Meets My Needs

By The Rev. Shelley Cunningham

Not long ago I received a call from our orthodontist letting me know that because my teenage daughter lost her retainer, the cost to replace it would be an out-of-pocket expense. I panicked. That wasn’t in my budget! And then I remembered the cozy balance in my health savings account (HSA) that my employer and I have been creating for just this kind of occasion. And I said a prayer of thanks for my ELCA-Primary Silver+ health benefits.

How did I manage to accumulate that HSA balance? About five years ago, my employer – Portico Benefit Services — switched from electing the ELCA-Primary Gold+ option paired with an optional flexible spending account (FSA) to the Silver+ option paired with Level A employer contribution into a member’s HSA. This gave me the choice during Annual Enrollment to accept Silver+ Level A or choose Gold+. Had Portico selected Gold+ for employees, Silver+ would have been off the table for me.

But which to choose? At first, I was hesitant. Gold+ was familiar. When I took a closer look, I realized that my family’s needs might actually be better served by Silver+, particularly because of the switch from an FSA to an HSA. The S in the tax-advantaged account designation was key to understanding how they work differently.

  • With an FSA (flexible spending account), the S stands for spending. Members sponsored by an employer can elect to contribute a certain amount for the year, and money is withdrawn pretax from their paychecks regularly throughout the year and deposited in an FSA. Members have access to the full amount of their election on Jan. 1 (or mid-year, for newly sponsored members), but have to spend it all during that plan year or lose it. (I’ll admit, that’s happened to me in the past.)
  • With an HSA (health savings account), the S stands for savings. Members sponsored by an employer can contribute pretax to their own HSA during the year and can change that election at any time. With the Level A employer contribution, the employer is also contributing a certain amount on a regular basis throughout the year. While members can only access their HSA money as it’s accrued in the account, once it’s there, it’s saved to use for eligible medical expenses whenever they need it – now, or later … even in retirement.

Health care is by nature personal, and the ELCA’s Philosophy of Benefits recognizes the importance of giving as much choice as possible to ELCA Health Plan members. That’s one reason the ELCA Church Council now recommends both Gold+ and Silver+, as long as Silver+ includes a Level A or B HSA contribution.

If I’m talking with a sponsoring employer or a plan member, I share these tips:

  • Sponsoring employers can visit EmployerLink to learn about the differences between the Gold+ and Silver+ options and find additional resources to help make Annual Enrollment go smoothly. Plan members can check out myPortico for Annual Enrollment information.
  • Remember, to give sponsored members flexibility to choose the option that works best for them – whether that’s Gold+ or Silver+ – the sponsoring organization needs to select Silver+ during Annual Enrollment Oct. 4 – 15.

As I prepare for this fall’s 2022 Annual Enrollment, I continue to be grateful that my employer opted for Silver+ so that I can choose the option that works best for me and my family.

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The Rev. Shelley Cunningham

As both a pastor and Portico’s customer outreach manager, Shelley serves at the intersection of faith and business. Leading a team of regional representatives dispersed throughout the United States, Shelley’s service extends well beyond the doors of her own congregation to reach the broader ELCA community. She combines her love of the church with her desire to ensure its faithful servants have the benefit tools and resources that will enable them to bring their best selves to the essential roles they play.

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