Thinking Out Loud

November 7, 2013

Increasingly, Insurance Companies Call the Shots

Filed under: Church, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:44 am

Sometimes when my wife and I are standing on the hill overlooking the lake at the Christian camp where we met, we’ll remember a particular feature of camp life — a piece of equipment, or a game the kids played — that no longer exists, and I’ll say, “You wouldn’t get an insurance company to approve that today.”

Camp is now a kinder, gentler place; and insurance regulations and restrictions affect everything from the beds in the cabins, to what happens on canoe trips, to the menu, preparation and serving of food in the kitchen. It’s a different world, but most parents and staff understand the necessity of putting safety first and limiting liability claims.

But I haven’t — so far — heard of the insurance company overriding a staff hire, or rejecting the presence of an existing staff member. Frankly, I didn’t know they could take their authority that far.  So the story of Greg Atkinson just seems lamentable.  After serving for three years, he explained it to his church, and posted on his blog:

Greg Atkinson…I regret to say that I will not be able to continue on as your Campus Pastor. I have a mood disorder (which I’ve been very open about and blogged about and posted on Facebook) which is controlled by medicine and allows me to function normally and at a high level. I say this to reinforce what I’ve always said, “God uses weak, messed up people.”

As things would have it, the church’s insurance company just recently found out about my mood disorder and classifies me as a liability. Pastor John and Forest Park were put in a very difficult situation by the insurance company of losing their liability insurance as a church (which would open them up to law suits for all their staff and pastors) or releasing me.

I am stepping down as Campus Pastor so that the church doesn’t lose their liability insurance. As a leader, I learned a long time ago that you make the right call for the many, even if the few don’t like it. In this case, my family and I are the few and the right call is to protect the entire Forest Park Church.

Please know I would have stayed here a decade or longer. I love you…

Dang! That’s just gut-wrenching stuff to read.

Fortunately, Greg is landing on his feet and has a number of projects in the works. I’m glad to hear that, but at the same time, it proves to me that perhaps Greg is not the person the insurance company thinks he is.

There’s something extremely off-putting about all this.  Greg loves his church and its people, and I hope the rules at least allow him to have an occasional ‘guest role’ as long as he and his family live in the area. Some of you might even want to add Greg, his wife, and their three children to your prayer list. I know he’d appreciate it.

Do insurance companies have too much say in this case? Could something like this happen where you live? There are a lot of people walking around who take meds for things like depression. Where would an insurance company draw the line? Is a church job any different than working in the toy or hunting department of a department store, or working at a bank? Aren’t we supposed to be more open to people with mental health disabilities?

I don’t suggest the insurer may have not the right to deeper investigation and perhaps even the right to suggest a staff member poses liability issues for a school, or daycare, or church.

I just don’t like the trajectory this is on.

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  1. When I first read this article a week or two ago I was stunned. How could an insurance company commit such a thing. Then I thought of two things, first we are not told the whole story. we have head from pastor Atkinson’s side, but the insurance company has not been asked the critical question WHY DID YOU MAKE THIS RULING? There had to be a reason.
    Secondly, as a pastor, I was concerned about how this might affect churches in Canada. I made contact with my own district officials and have spoken with our church insurance carrier, and have been told that this is not the policy of the insurance company. My carrier also covers most denominations across the country.

    Comment by ralph juthman — November 7, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  2. One would need deep pockets and the inclination to legally pursue it, but I am quite certain that this is against the Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act. I hate to think there is more to the story, there must be. May this story have a Job ending for Greg.

    Comment by MJ — November 7, 2013 @ 11:57 am

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