Forums highlight health care changes

by Erica Buonanno | 9/24/14 6:41pm

In a five-part series of health care forums that ended yesterday morning, host and executive vice president Richard Mills sparked discussion among faculty and staff regarding changes to this year’s health care plans, before open enrollment begins on Oct. 21. The sessions, attended by around 450, explored factors driving changes in health coverage, including College President Phil Hanlon’s stated desire to address college affordability and a new tax under the Affordable Care Act.

Although they covered the details of the health plans’ upcoming changes, the forums focused on broadening attendees’ perspectives of national health care trends affecting Dartmouth, Mills said.

“The message is if we are trying to address affordability of college for students and families, which we are and is one of President Hanlon’s priorities, and we’re trying to control growth in cost of tuition, our revenues are going to get squeezed and our health care costs are coming up,” he said.

Mills said he seeks to involve faculty and staff in decisions about dividing funds between wages, salaries and benefits, noting that he wants to design a health plan tailored to employee preferences.

“It’s likely we will never give people all of the wages and all of the benefits they hope to have, but if we can at least start to do it in ways that mean something for them, that’s a real positive,” he said.

Health plans are no longer “one size fits all,” he said, and Dartmouth is responsible for educating its faculty and staff.

In 2018, the Affordable Care Act will bring a 40 percent excise tax known as the “Cadillac Tax” on any plan with values exceeding a federally mandated threshold. A revenue source to help fund the Affordable Care Act, it is projected to cost the College around $2 million per year, Mills said.

“All employers are beginning to work to modify plans to try to bring the slope and value of the plan down to get in under that cap,” he said.

The College offers faculty and staff three medical insurance plan options through Cigna Health Insurance: two “open access” plans and one cheaper plan with a significantly higher deductible.

In 2014, the College paid an average of 75 percent of the premium costs, with employees paying the other 25 percent. Projections show that this year, the College will pay 76 percent of the premium fees, and employees will pay 24 percent.

Benefits director Alice Tanguay said the College is revising its two “open access” health plan options to offer identical benefits, though cost-sharing — the out-of-pocket fee for deductibles, coinsurance and copayments — will differ in each plan.

Additionally, Dartmouth will contribute to the Health Savings Account by paying $500 a year to employees enrolled in the high deductible health plan as a single individual and $1,000 a year to employees with a “two-person for family” plan, she said.

Mills said reactions from faculty and staff at the forums varied, ranging from “it’s the same old bad news, when the is the College going to come up with more money for us?” to “I don’t really like what you’re telling me, but I understand why it’s happening.”

Andrea Kazilionis, who works at Baker-Berry Library, said she appreciated Mills’ honesty and transparency, noting that he did a good job tying national health care concerns to Dartmouth.

“He compared our situation to that of other Ivy Leagues schools and I think has done a really good job at minimizing the changes to come,” she said.

French professor Kelly McConnell said she would appreciate a plan with orthodontic coverage. She suggested the College could cut health care costs by creating a clinic for employees’ children under Dartmouth Health Connect, a primary care organization.

Native American studies professor Vera Palmer suggested the single premium be reconsidered, noting that while it is well-structured for staff with families or couples employed by the College, it is less attractive for single faculty members.

Beginning Monday, the College benefits team will host group and individual sessions to help employees understand their coverage options. Open enrollment one-on-one sessions will run from Oct. 20 through Nov. 3 and open enrollment starts Oct. 21, lasting through Nov. 4.

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