Medical plan change causes frustration

Members of the Faculty Senate are angered at University officials for failing to include faculty in the decision to switch its medical care provider last year.

The new medical insurance plan went into effect in January, but select members of the Faculty Senate said the change hasn’t been seamless and the process should have been more transparent. The University held the same two insurance providers for nearly a decade.

The switch means added costs for University employees and the new provider, UnitedHealthcare, is at the bottom of consumer reports lists, Michael Castleberry, chair of the executive committee of the Faculty Senate, said.

“The way in which it was done was outside the provisions for consultation with faculty on matters which impact them, it didn’t go through the Benefits Review Committee or come to the Faculty Senate even as an information item.?It was a done deal and everyone has had to live with it,” Castleberry said.

The University contends the switch to UHC improves medical benefits for employees, while adding new programs like infertility treatment, hearing aids and support for international travelers.

An extended network was also created to allow for continuation of care for employees who had been seeing a physician in 2010 that is not included in the new UHC network. ?

“With the balance who are not currently participating, we have worked with UHC to allow our employees to access those physicians like they would if the physicians were in the UHC network,” Chief Human Resources Officer Louis Lemieux said.

Under the new plan, premiums will increase about 4.7 percent on average for 2011 but copays and deductibles will not increase.

In response to faculty’s ire, the University – in talks with the Faculty Senate – launched a new Benefits Advisory Committee that will meet quarterly, Lemieux said.?

The University reviews its health and welfare plans each year. After a 6-month review process that began last winter, a decision was made to switch the health insurance provider from a combination of CIGNA and CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield to a single provider, UHC.

In the past, any changes to the health plan would have gone before the Benefits Review Committee so the Faculty Senate and the faculty would know a review and a possible change would be taking place.

Phillip Wirtz, a professor of decision sciences and psychology and a member of the Faculty Senate, said the committee dissolved about 6 years ago, leaving faculty out of the discussions of a new health care provider.

“All of a sudden it disappeared and the faculty and staff really did not have a mechanism for participating in either direction in changing the benefits,” Wirtz said. “It seems to be that the one misstep is not having a Benefits Review Committee that could have looked over this and provided for some input and some insight.”

Wirtz said the jury is still out on the quality of the new provider.

“It’s too early to tell whether the change itself is going to have a negative or a positive impact or a neutral impact,” Wirtz said.

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