No HMO to be offered to WMU-AAUP faculty this year

In July, President Dunn announced that BCBSM’s Healthy Blue Living HMO might be offered to WMU employees during open enrollment this fall, explaining that each employee group on campus would have the option to allow (or not allow) the administration to offer the new plan to its members.

In early September, the WMU-AAUP published an analysis in advance of the Association Council meeting scheduled for September 16, to help the faculty in our bargaining unit make an informed decision about whether to allow the HMO to be offered for 2017 alongside our existing plan. At the meeting, the Association Council decided that this question should be taken up by the full faculty at our fall chapter meeting, scheduled for October 14.

But a strong consensus also emerged among the Association Council reps on September 16 that by trying to oblige the faculty to participate in conversations and make decisions about our health benefits outside of scheduled bargaining, the administration was essentially attempting to engage the chapter in negotiations, in contravention of Article 45 of the Agreement, which the chapter had already invoked in April 2016. Article 45 is the agreement between the administration and the WMU-AAUP in which “each waives the right, and each agrees that the other shall not be obligated to bargain collectively with respect to any subject or matter referred to or covered by this Agreement.”

When we notified Dr. Warren Hills, WMU Chief Human Resources Officer, of these developments after the Association Council meeting, he responded that the administration would be “going forward with open enrollment for the bargaining units that have agreed and our benefits-eligible staff.”

We interpret this to mean that the administration has decided not to offer the HMO to WMU-AAUP faculty.

As WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick wrote on the chapter blog in July 2016:

The idea of adding a second plan, specifically one that lowers premium costs for employees, was proposed by another employee group on campus, the WMU chapter of AFSCME, whose bargaining unit includes maintenance, landscape, dining, custodial, and other service staff. The health insurance premiums assessed to individuals vary by employee group at WMU. As most faculty are aware, our group, the board-appointed faculty, pays the highest premiums, but what maybe a lot of faculty don’t know is that employees in groups whose median pay is lower than that of the faculty still face costs that are unacceptably high, especially for the two-person and family plans.

So I can understand why our AFSCME colleagues are fighting for more affordable health insurance for their membership. We join them in their ongoing attempts to reduce healthcare costs for all WMU employees, especially the lowest paid among us, as these costs have become increasingly burdensome in recent years.

But I am not as optimistic as President Dunn seems to be that this new plan is the answer.

As I have noted, board-appointed faculty already pay the highest insurance premiums of any employee group at WMU, a rate that is the same as what senior administrative officers pay, even though the median and mean salaries of that employee group are of course significantly greater than ours. One way to cut costs for lower-paid employees, then, might be to ask senior administrators to bear more of their share of the burden.

And it is probably worth noting that not all senior administrators are even paying the same premiums as faculty. For example, President Dunn’s premium is $0 for his two-person plan, compared to $3933 per year for faculty. Additionally, his retirement agreement guarantees continuing free coverage for himself and for Mrs. Dunn for the rest of their lives. (Faculty and staff retirees, by contrast, have seen their share of healthcare premiums spike in recent years.)

As we noted in our September analysis, we have serious reservations about the Healthy Blue Living HMO. While the premium equivalents for the HMO are lower than those for our current plan, the HMO has “wellness program” participation conditions attached to it that some faculty might find intrusive and/or burdensome. If these conditions are not met, deductibles are increased and coverage is decreased. Additionally, the full deductible must be met before HMO enrollees are eligible for coverage of office visits and nearly all other non-preventive medical and clinical care, meaning that you would pay 100% of the bill for non-preventive services and office visits until your deductible is met, potentially negating any savings from lower premiums. (See Table 1.)

Conversely, our current plan includes many services to which the deductible does not apply, and the deductible need not be met before we can access coverage for most office visits and services after copay. Our current plan also includes access to medical and clinical services at the Sindecuse Health Center on campus with zero out-of-pocket costs and a prescription drug discount at Sindecuse. These benefits would not be available to HMO enrollees, who would be responsible for all charges for medical and clinical services at Sindecuse and would pay retail prices for prescription drugs at the Sindecuse pharmacy. (See Table 2.)

Please refer to the full analysis for more information.

The chapter leadership and members of our 2014 bargaining team believe that there are better ways to reduce costs for faculty that do not involve the intrusive “wellness” requirements that are integral to the Healthy Blue Living HMO. We also question the ethics of an option that requires faculty to take chances with the health and wellbeing of their families by gambling on a plan that may include some savings in the short run but is not likely to be a good investment for anyone who might actually have to use their insurance.

These are among the reasons why the faculty expressed its nearly unanimous dissatisfaction at the chapter meeting in April 2016 with the prospect of major decisions about our healthcare being made outside of contract negotiations. The product of this dissatisfaction was passage of a resolution invoking the chapter’s rights under Article 45 of the Agreement, a position that the Association Council reaffirmed last month.

ARTICLE 45
WAIVER CLAUSE

45.§1 AGREE AND ACKNOWLEDGE. The parties acknowledge that during the negotiations which resulted in this Agreement each had the unlimited right and opportunity to make demands and proposals with respect to any subject or matter not removed by law from the area of collective bargaining and that the understandings and agreements arrived at by the parties after  the exercise of that right and opportunity are set forth in this Agreement. Therefore, Western and the Chapter, for the life of this Agreement, each waives the right, and each agrees that the other shall not be obligated to bargain collectively with respect to any subject or matter referred to or covered by this Agreement and with respect to any non-mandatory subject of bargaining not specifically referred to or covered in this Agreement, even though such subject may not have been within the knowledge and contemplation of either or both of the parties at the time that they negotiated or signed this Agreement.

We are looking forward to contract negotiations in 2017, at which time we will explore a variety of approaches to getting costs down for members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit.

President Dunn’s email: “A new health plan option for 2017”

On the New Health Plan Option
By Lisa Minnick, WMU-AAUP President

By now faculty and other WMU employees will have seen the email from President Dunn, dated July 22, 2016, announcing the addition of a second health insurance option to be offered to WMU employees beginning in January 2017. As he wrote in his email, each employee group on campus will have the option to allow (or not allow) the administration to offer the new plan to its members.

If WMU-AAUP faculty members choose to allow the new plan to be offered to our bargaining unit, our existing plan, the BCBSM PPO that we have negotiated with the administration, would continue to be offered alongside the new plan.

We will provide an analysis of the BCBSM Healthy Blue Living HMO plan to the faculty in the next few weeks so that each faculty member will be well equipped to make an informed decision about whether the WMU-AAUP should agree to allow the plan to be offered to the faculty. We will be seeking your input as we go forward.

What follows is my perspective on this development as the WMU-AAUP representative on the alternative healthcare committee.

The idea of adding a second plan, specifically one that lowers premium costs for employees, was proposed by another employee group on campus, the WMU chapter of AFSCME, whose bargaining unit includes maintenance, landscape, dining, custodial, and other service staff. The health insurance premiums assessed to individuals vary by employee group at WMU. As most faculty are aware, our group, the board-appointed faculty, pays the highest premiums, but what maybe a lot of faculty don’t know is that employees in groups whose median pay is lower than that of the faculty still face costs that are unacceptably high, especially for the two-person and family plans.

So I can understand why our AFSCME colleagues are fighting for more affordable health insurance for their membership. We join them in their ongoing attempts to reduce healthcare costs for all WMU employees, especially the lowest paid among us, as these costs have become increasingly burdensome in recent years.

But I am not as optimistic as President Dunn seems to be that this new plan is the answer.

As I have noted, board-appointed faculty already pay the highest insurance premiums of any employee group at WMU, a rate that is the same as what senior administrative officers pay, even though the median and mean salaries of that employee group are of course significantly greater than ours. One way to cut costs for lower-paid employees, then, might be to ask senior administrators to bear more of their share of the burden.

And it is probably worth noting that not all senior administrators are even paying the same premiums as faculty. For example, President Dunn’s premium is $0 for his two-person plan, compared to $3933 per year for faculty. Additionally, his retirement agreement guarantees continuing free coverage for himself and for Mrs. Dunn for the rest of their lives. (Faculty and staff retirees, by contrast, have seen their share of healthcare premiums spike in recent years.)

In his email, President Dunn wrote:

A committee comprised of representatives from all the benefits-eligible campus employee groups has been working since September to identify a less expensive health care plan option. They have thoroughly assessed one Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan health care plan and have come to the conclusion that it should be added as an option—an alternative to the BCBSM PPO that WMU already offers to employees.

I represented the faculty on this committee, so I can say that this conclusion was not unanimous and that in fact I remain skeptical about the cost savings that individuals who choose the new option, BCBSM Healthy Blue Living HMO, will actually see over time. Additionally, I am concerned about the potentially burdensome conditions that the insured person (and spouse, for those on the two-person plan) must meet in order to qualify for this plan. If these conditions are not met, the insured will face reduced coverage and higher out-of-pocket costs.

Along with members of our 2014 bargaining team, I believe that there are better ways to reduce costs for faculty that do not involve intrusive “wellness” requirements or taking chances with the health and wellbeing of our families by gambling on a plan that may include some savings in the short run but that may not be the best investment over time.

Additionally, when this topic was discussed at the WMU-AAUP chapter meeting on April 8, 2016, the faculty expressed its dissatisfaction with the prospect of major decisions about our healthcare being made outside of contract negotiations and passed a resolution invoking the chapter’s rights under Article 45 of the Agreement:

ARTICLE 45
WAIVER CLAUSE

45.§1 AGREE AND ACKNOWLEDGE. The parties acknowledge that during the negotiations which resulted in this Agreement each had the unlimited right and opportunity to make demands and proposals with respect to any subject or matter not removed by law from the area of collective bargaining and that the understandings and agreements arrived at by the parties after  the exercise of that right and opportunity are set forth in this Agreement. Therefore, Western and the Chapter, for the life of this Agreement, each waives the right, and each agrees that the other shall not be obligated to bargain collectively with respect to any subject or matter referred to or covered by this Agreement and with respect to any non-mandatory subject of bargaining not specifically referred to or covered in this Agreement, even though such subject may not have been within the knowledge and contemplation of either or both of the parties at the time that they negotiated or signed this Agreement.

Our contract is not binding on other employee groups, of course, some of whose members are facing serious financial challenges as a result of increasing healthcare costs in recent years. And the administration has the legal right to offer an additional health insurance plan without negotiating it with us, as long as they continue to offer the existing plan as negotiated, which they will do.

As I have said, I think there are better ways to get costs down, including innovative approaches that have not been considered before, and our 2017 negotiation team will be exploring that. But I think we can all understand why many of our staff colleagues are anxious for relief sooner rather than later, as we also respect their right to make decisions that are best for themselves and their families.

A question that I raised during the committee’s deliberations over the past year was whether adding a second plan would create an “adverse selection” situation, in which healthier people might leave the existing BCBSM PPO for a plan that is less expensive up front and ultimately raise costs for those who choose to remain with the PPO. In his recommendation (linked here) to VP for Business and Finance Jan Van Der Kley on behalf of the committee, VP for Human Resources Warren Hills included the following request:

“With the success of this plan option, we also ask that for subsequent years costing of both plans would share the pooled experience of their combined participation and that the pricing differential would continue to be based upon the difference in plan definitions, not specific to the experience of participants in either group.”

VP Van Der Kley agreed. (Her response is linked here.)

For me, one of the positive things that came out of my service on this committee over the past academic year was getting to work closely with colleagues from AFSCME, the Professional Support Staff Organization, the Administrative Professionals Association, and the Michigan State Employees Association (WMU’s power plant workers), along with members of the human resources team at WMU. While the outcome of our work is not what I had hoped for, it was a great experience to have the opportunity to work closely on a long-term project with these intelligent, thoughtful people. While attending a two-hour meeting every two weeks for a year to talk about health insurance may not sound like the most exciting way to spend time, I always looked forward to seeing these terrific colleagues. Working together in this way also offered us the opportunity to build solidarity based on our shared commitment to Western Michigan University, our students, our community, and our members. I appreciate the wisdom and dedication they brought to this project, and I respect their perspectives and their decisions.

Faculty can expect to receive more information soon from the WMU-AAUP about the proposed new health plan, and we will also be seeking your input as we go forward. If you have questions, by all means send them along. Please email staff@wmuaaup.net. I might not be able to answer all of your questions right away, but if I don’t know the answer, I will find out for you.

Save the date: Chapter meeting Friday, October 16

The WMU-AAUP fall chapter meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Friday, October
16, in room of the 157 Bernhard Center.

Here are some of the agenda items we’re working on for the meeting:

  • Chapter budget proposal for 2016
  • Workload reporting under Article 42
  • WMU support staff unionization effort
  • What do professors do? The Invisible Hours project
  • “Alternative Healthcare Plan” discussions
  • APR&P results
  • Celebrating the national AAUP centennial

Please send your suggestions for agenda items to staff@wmuaaup.net.

All bargaining-unit members are encouraged to attend the chapter meeting. As always, there will be tasty snacks and lively conversation.

Photo of September 2014 chapter meeting

Supreme Court decision on marriage equality and its impact on your WMU benefits

WMU-AAUP letter to the faculty on the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality:

July 1, 2015

Dear colleagues:

As you know, the Supreme Court of the United States has struck down all remaining state bans on same-sex marriage (including Michigan’s).

The Supreme Court decision, announced last Friday, has implications for the benefits available to faculty colleagues in same-sex marriages.

Previously, same-sex spouses were eligible to be on faculty health insurance policies under the DEI (designated eligible individual) provisions in the Agreement. However, all faculty spouses are now eligible for spousal coverage, which has considerable tax advantages over DEI coverage.

If you wish to to change your spouse’s existing DEI coverage to spousal coverage; if you wish to add your spouse to your health insurance for the first time; or if you have married since last week’s court decision, please contact your department’s Human Resources representative as soon as possible to get your spouse the coverage to which your family is entitled.

As always, we are here to help you navigate this process as needed. Please call 345-0151 or email staff@wmuaaup.net for assistance.

Congratulations to all whose marriages and families are at long last gaining the legal recognition they deserve, in Michigan and nationwide!

In solidarity,
Lisa

Lisa C. Minnick
President, WMU-AAUP
Associate Professor of English
and Gender & Women’s Studies
Western Michigan University
814 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008
(269) 345-0151

Revisiting the WMU Employee Wellness Program

Last fall, the WMU-AAUP circulated information to faculty about the WMU employee wellness program. Recently, a number of faculty members have contacted us with questions after receiving email messages encouraging them to participate in the program. Because it is important that faculty have the information they need to make informed decisions, we are publishing the information again.

If you have questions after reviewing this information, please contact us at 345-0151 or via email at staff@wmuaaup.net.

Here is how the new wellness program works:

  • The WMU wellness program is VOLUNTARY. Participation is NOT MANDATORY. (But please see this recent news article: When Does Workplace Wellness Become Coercive? NPR, June 24, 2015.)
  • University employees (including faculty) will receive a small financial incentive in return for participating in the wellness program.
  • While your participation in the wellness program is voluntary, it is required in order to qualify for the incentive.
  • The incentive totals $240 annually in the form of a per-pay period reduction to the employee’s share of the health insurance premium.
  • If you choose to participate, the incentive will reduce your share of the premium by $9.23 per pay period (after taxes) for those on 26 pays or by $13.33 per pay period (after taxes) for those on 18 pays.
  • In order to qualify for the incentive, you must complete a “health risk assessment” and biometric testing.

What the incentive would look like for you:

  • If you are on the employee-only plan: Your annual premium for 2014 is $954. The wellness-program incentive would reduce that annual premium by $240, resulting in a new annual premium of $714, a discount of 25.1 percent.
  • If you are on the two-person plan: Your annual premium for 2014 is $3970. The wellness-program incentive would reduce that annual premium by $240, resulting in a new total annual premium of $3730, a discount of six percent.
  • If you are on the family plan: Your annual premium for 2014 is $5664. The wellness-program incentive would reduce that annual premium by $240, resulting in a new total annual premium of $5424, a discount of 4.2 percent.

What about privacy and confidentiality?

  • To qualify for the financial incentive, participants in the wellness program are required to submit to biometric testing and to complete a “health risk assessment” survey.
  • The “health risk assessment” survey contains a number of questions about your private health information. These questions are personal, and some are presumptive and intrusive (e.g., “Have you been annoyed when others say you have had too much to drink?” and “During the past 4 weeks, how much did your health problems affect your productivity while you were working?”).
  • The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes a privacy rule that prevents healthcare providers from sharing an individual’s health information with their employer. However, HIPAA rules may not apply to “wellness” program vendors who are not technically healthcare providers.
  • When we raised this question at the bargaining table last summer, Holtyn confirmed that while the company complies voluntarily with HIPAA, it is not compelled by law to do so.
  • Should any conflicts of interest arise (in relation to an insurance claim, for example), it is not clear whether the vendor would be required by law to protect faculty interests over those of our employer (who is also their employer), or if not required, whether they would choose to do so.

Is the incentive worth it?

  • Under the Affordable Care Act, federal law allows employers to offer incentives for wellness program participation of up to 30 percent of the employee’s share of the premium.
  • The incentive on offer to us amounts to 4.2 percent of the family premium for 2014, 6 percent of the two-person premium, and 25.1 percent for the employee-only premium.
  • University employees (including faculty) are being asked to provide a lot of private information in exchange for what would be a relatively small incentive, especially for those on the two-person or family plans.

In addition to the information provided here, we are available to help you with any questions you might have as you consider whether participation in the wellness program is the right choice for you. Call us (345-0151), email us (staff@wmuaaup.net), or stop by Montague House (814 Oakland Drive).

Fall 2014 WMU Wellness Program Update

You may have received a letter recently from the WMU Office of Human Resources inviting you to participate in a new WMU “wellness program,” which offers a small financial incentive for university employees, including faculty, in return for participation in the program. (The WMU-AAUP first reported on the plans for this program last year and again over the summer during negotiations.)

Now that letters from HR have begun arriving to invite our participation in the new wellness program, we want to share with you what we know about it in the hope that you’ll be able to make the best decision for yourself and your family about whether to participate.

Here is how the new wellness program works:

  • University employees (including faculty) will receive a small financial incentive in return for participating in the wellness program.
  • Your participation in the wellness program is voluntary. However, it is required in order to qualify for the incentive.
  • The incentive totals $240 annually in the form of a per-pay period reduction to the employee’s share of the health insurance premium.
  • If you choose to participate, the incentive will reduce your share of the premium by $9.23 per pay period (after taxes) for those on 26 pays or by $13.33 per pay period (after taxes) for those on 18 pays.
  • In order to qualify for the incentive, you must complete a “health risk assessment” and biometric testing.

What the incentive would look like for you:

  • If you are on the employee-only plan: Your annual premium for 2014 is $954. The wellness-program incentive would reduce that annual premium by $240, resulting in a new annual premium of $714, a discount of 25.1 percent.
  • If you are on the two-person plan: Your annual premium for 2014 is $3970. The wellness-program incentive would reduce that annual premium by $240, resulting in a new total annual premium of $3730, a discount of six percent.
  • If you are on the family plan: Your annual premium for 2014 is $5664. The wellness-program incentive would reduce that annual premium by $240, resulting in a new total annual premium of $5424, a discount of 4.2 percent.

What about privacy and confidentiality?

  • To qualify for the financial incentive, participants in the wellness program are required to submit to biometric testing and to complete a “health risk assessment” survey.
  • The “health risk assessment” survey contains a number of questions about your private health information. These questions are personal, and some are presumptive and intrusive (e.g., “Have you been annoyed when others say you have had too much to drink?” and “During the past 4 weeks, how much did your health problems affect your productivity while you were working?”).
  • The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes a privacy rule that prevents healthcare providers from sharing an individual’s health information with their employer. However, HIPAA rules may not apply to “wellness” program vendors who are not technically healthcare providers.
  • When we raised this question at the bargaining table this summer, Holtyn confirmed that while the company complies voluntarily with HIPAA, it is not compelled by law to do so.
  • Should any conflicts of interest arise (in relation to an insurance claim, for example), it is not clear whether the vendor would be required by law to protect faculty interests over those of our employer (who is also their employer), or if not required, whether they would choose to do so.

Is the incentive worth it?

  • Under the Affordable Care Act, federal law allows employers to offer incentives for wellness program participation of up to 30 percent of the employee’s share of the premium.
  • The incentive on offer to us amounts to 4.2 percent of the family premium for 2014, six percent of the two-person premium, and 25.1 percent for the employee-only premium.
  • University employees (including faculty) are being asked to provide a lot of private information in exchange for what would be a relatively small incentive, especially for those on the two-person or family plans.

In addition to the information provided herein, we are available to help you with any questions you might have as you consider whether participation in the wellness program is the right choice for you. Call us (345-0151), email us (staff@wmuaaup.net), or stop by Montague House (814 Oakland Drive).

Chapter meeting TOMORROW (July 18) and email issue

WMU-AAUP Chapter Meeting | 1:30-3:30 p.m. | 157-159 Bernhard Center

As you may be aware, WMU-AAUP emails are being blocked as spam by WMU’s network provider, Merit Network, which for the past week has made it impossible for us to communicate electronically with the faculty in the usual way. Earlier this week, as this issue began to play out, we attempted to get the word out to all WMU-AAUP bargaining-unit members about our chapter meeting tomorrow via your department representatives. Thanks to all who helped to disseminate that message earlier this week.

Earlier today, we contacted the board-appointed faculty using each college’s faculty-group email address to make sure all members of the bargaining unit are aware of the chapter meeting tomorrow and receive the news from us about some recent developments at the bargaining table. It is not the ideal solution, and it is only a temporary one, but with the chapter meeting coming up tomorrow and critical issues on the bargaining table that we need to discuss with our members, we needed to be able to get information out to the faculty ASAP.

Using the college faculty-group lists, we believe that we have now successfully reached the faculty in all colleges except for Aviation, Engineering & Applied Sciences, and Fine Arts, for which we do not have functioning faculty-group email addresses. For faculty in these colleges, we have contacted the WMU-AAUP Association Council representatives for each department and asked them to forward today’s message to the board-appointed faculty members in their respective departments. All other members of the bargaining unit should have received it directly during business hours today (Thursday, July 17).

A version of the message below went out via Association Council reps earlier this week. In addition to wanting to make sure everyone receives it, we also have a bit of additional information to add today (regarding the administration’s announcement that it intends to change to a 24-pays schedule from the current 26-pays arrangement), so even if you saw it on Monday or Tuesday, you might want to check out this updated version now.

Here’s the skinny:

Please join us for the chapter meeting tomorrow — Friday, July 18) — 1:30-3:30 p.m. We will meet in rooms 157-159 of the Bernhard Center to discuss our ongoing contract negotiations.

Agenda for July 18 chapter meeting:

  • The main agenda items will be compensation and healthcare. As most of you know from their email to the faculty last Friday, the administration intends to propose a “high deductible” health plan (HDHP) as an option for WMU faculty and staff beginning in 2016. Although the administration has yet to share the specifics of their plan, we have put together some resources for colleagues who are interested in learning more now. Please visit this link for information about HDHPs here on the blog and for links to a relevant resources from a variety of perspectives. The same information is also available in a hard-copy WMU-AAUP Bulletin sent out earlier this week to campus mailboxes and in a pdf attachment to today’s email message to the faculty as well (available here).
  • Shared governance and the academic mission of the university will also be on the agenda, especially the status at the bargaining table of articles related to those issues. In light of recent developments at the table and the administration’s email to the faculty last week, which contained a surprisingly candid dismissal of the importance of discussing articles at the table that are central to such core academic values, it is important that we address these topics at the chapter meeting tomorrow.
  • The administration’s plan to switch from 26 pays per year to 24 has generated a lot of feedback from colleagues regarding this proposal, a number of whom have identified compelling issues that affect members of our faculty in ways that make it critically important that we discuss this topic tomorrow at the chapter meeting.

On behalf of your WMU-AAUP negotiation team and chapter leadership, we extend our thanks to those of you who have generously shared your knowledge and expertise in the areas under discussion at the table. This negotiation is truly a collaborative effort, and your help continues to be welcome, gratefully received, and highly valued. We will of course continue to share information with you regarding progress at the table, and we hope to see all of you tomorrow at this very important chapter meeting.

And thanks once again to all of you who have shared your feedback, support, and expressions of solidarity. Things are starting to get interesting at the table, but your team is well prepared, disciplined, and unfazed. Please do come talk with them tomorrow.

#StrongerTogether               #GoWMUAAUP

 

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Information about high-deductible health plans

Last week, the administration’s negotiation team informed the WMU-AAUP team that they are interested in introducing a “high deductible” health plan (HDHP) as an option for WMU faculty and staff beginning in 2016. We are currently covered under a preferred-provider organization plan (PPO). Faculty members also received an email from the administration’s team last Friday, July 11, to announce their plan to introduce HDHPs at WMU. So far, the administration has presented only hypotheticals at the table but has not shared any specifics about how HDHPs would work at WMU, what participation in a HDHP would cost those electing such an option, or how the coverage would work.

However, the WMU-AAUP chapter leadership and our negotiation team have been following trends in employer-based health benefits for many months in preparation for the contract negotiations now underway, and given the national trends among large employers, we expected that the administration would be interested in pursuing HDHP plans. To prepare for negotiations, we have been conducting research and working with experts, including a healthcare consultant brought in to work with the team. Additionally, faculty colleagues with applicable expertise have been generous with their knowledge and continue to help ensure that we are well prepared for this discussion at the table.

Therefore, even though we don’t know yet what the plan the administration intends to bring to the faculty is going to look like, we are prepared to provide information for colleagues wondering what this development might mean. We have put together the collection of resources below for those who are interested in learning more now, and we will continue to share information with the faculty as it becomes available.

On a related note, we also want to encourage you to attend the special chapter meeting on Friday, July 18, 1:30-3:30 p.m., in rooms 157-159 of the Bernhard Center. Healthcare will be very much on the agenda, and we hope all bargaining unit members will attend this important meeting.

Now, about HDHPs.

Below is an outline of some of the central features of HDHPs, including a rundown of advantages and disadvantages for workers enrolled in high-deductible plans. At the bottom of this post is an annotated bibliography of sources for further reading.

Some background on HDHPs:

  • Employers are increasingly attracted to HDHPs in order to save themselves money.
  • While employers often cite the Affordable Care Act as the driving force behind the increasing popularity of HDHPs, some industry experts have observed that the move toward arrangements for health coverage that increasingly shift costs to employees predates the ACA.
  • This attempt to shift more of the costs of healthcare away from employers and onto workers is analogous to the trend in retirement benefits over the past several decades, with many public- and private-sector employers nationwide moving from “defined benefit” plans to “defined contribution” plans, in which the employee contribution to retirement has increased while the employer’s share has decreased.

What are some advantages of HDHPs?

  • Premiums for HDHPs are often lower than those for PPOs.
  • Healthy workers who opt for a lower premium and higher deductible can save money if they do not become ill or suffer an injury.
  • Workers with HDHPs can open a health savings account (HSA) and get a tax break on what they contribute to it. (This is primarily a benefit for higher-income workers who don’t need to use their entire paycheck to live on and can afford to put money in an HSA.)
  • Employee contributions to HSAs are pre-tax and withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are not taxed. (Withdrawals for non-medical expenses before age 65 incur a 20 percent tax penalty. After age 65, non-medical withdrawals are treated as regular income for tax purposes.)
  • The money a worker puts into an HSA account rolls over from year to year, so the worker keeps those contributions even if he or she doesn’t use it all to pay for medical expenses by the end of the year.
  • Employees can take their HSAs with them if they change jobs or when they retire.

What are the downsides of HDHPs?

  • In contrast to PPOs, HDHPs shift more of the financial risk for health coverage from the employer to the employee.
  • Compared to employees covered under PPOs, workers with HDHPs face much higher out-of-pocket costs when they or members of their family need medical attention.
  • Participants in HDHPs may be more likely to delay needed care because of the high out-of-pocket costs.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages HDHPs for families with children, citing concerns that parents might delay seeking care for a child because they haven’t yet met their deductible and can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs. In a May 2014 policy statement, the AAP said that “high-deductible health plans decrease health care expenditures, but at the cost of quality of care, continuity of care, and accessibility to care” especially for children, and especially those with special needs and from non-affluent families.
  • HDHP employees are basically self-insuring, paying their own claims out of pocket until they meet their deductible.
  • They can also end up spending a lot of time wrangling with the insurance company to make sure all their payments are applied accurately to their deductible.
  • Enrollees in HDHPs often see a major increase in the paperwork they must complete when they need care over what was required for their PPO.
  • In case of unexpected health crises, such as accident or serious illness, enrollees could end up having to write a very big check, which can create significant financial hardship, especially for those who are not high earners.

In sum, HDHPs are great for employers, who expect to save a lot of money by implementing them alongside PPOs. Employers can save even more by replacing the PPO option entirely with HDHPs. The WMU administration has said that this is not their intent, but HDHP-only employers are increasing in numbers nationwide, so it is hard to imagine that they are not thinking about going to an HDHP-only system at some point in the future.

As an employee, you might be able to save money by electing an HDHP, as long as you are young and healthy and don’t have children and never get sick or injured. But if you’re not young, if you have any health problems, or if you have a family, HDHPs can be a risky and expensive proposition.

For further reading:

Beware of pitfalls in high-deductible health plans, by Beth Pinsker. Reuters, November 26, 2013.

Discusses high out-of-pocket costs for illness or injury, problems associated with billing and coding errors, unexplained charges and fees, and and the need for – and difficulty of – employees to become “billing experts” and advocates on their own behalf. (As one expert quoted in the article puts it, “These plans are putting people in the driver’s seat, but without GPS.”)

Rise of high-deductible health plans tied to savings accounts alarms some, by Michael Austin. Dallas Morning News, October 18, 2013.

Discusses the trend of employers increasingly favoring HDHPs and the pros and cons for employees. Includes information on the connection between the shift to HDHPs and the advent of workplace wellness programs.

High-deductible health plans are a growing trend for employers, by Jim Fuquay. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 28, 2013.

Outlines how HDHPs work, including pros and cons for employees and real-life examples.

Envisioning the End of Employer-Provided Health Plans, by Neil Irwin. New York Times, May 1, 2014.

Will a high-deductible health plan save you money? by Constance Gustke, Bankrate.com.

Large Companies Are Increasingly Offering Workers Only High Deductible Health Plans, by Michelle Andrews. Kaiser Health News, March 26, 2013.

Discusses the growing trend among employers toward the implementation of HDHPs as the only option for workers. Reports on a meta-analysis of research findings on HDHPs that suggests that such plans “reduced total health-care spending by 5 to 14 percent” but that “The reductions were concentrated among healthier enrollees and were mainly due to lower spending on prescription drugs and outpatient care.” The authors of the study report that “Results were mixed on whether people in such plans cut back indiscriminately on both necessary and unnecessary care, as earlier research has found.” (The full analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is linked here.)

Brace for jarring health care costs, by Jim Landers. Dallas Morning News, June 30, 2014.

Discusses HDHPs and some of the unexpected problems and extra costs that can arise for the insured.

Analysis of High Deductible Health Plans. RAND Corporation.

RAND: “Lower spending observed in HDHPs may be the result of favorable selection, that is, [HDHPs] may attract a higher proportion of healthier enrollees. A major limitation of studies comparing health care spending between HDHPs and more traditional plans is that they cannot completely control for the possibility that individuals who enroll in HDHPs are healthier overall than those who choose traditional plans. As a result, some portion of lower health care spending may occur because HDHP enrollees are healthier on average than enrollees in traditional plans.

“If healthier employees shift to HDHPs, comprehensive plans may increase premiums to account for the higher expected costs among the remaining enrollees. Such adverse selection might be ameliorated or eliminated if the employer subsidizes the costs of the comprehensive plan or if the employer offers only an HDHP.”

Expect To Pay More For Your Employer-Sponsored Health Care Next Year, by Julie Appleby. Kaiser Health News, December 20, 2013.

Outlines causes for increasing healthcare costs and discusses the widespread shift of the financial risk from employers to employees. The article notes that “Employers like [HDHPs] because they cost about 20 percent less than an HMO and about 17 percent less than the most popular type of coverage, the preferred provider network or PPO.” Citing the increasing popularity of HDHPs among employers, one health insurance industry analyst notes that the trend is “not driven by the ACA, but [by] the cost pressures on employers.”

Poll: Americans Bristle At Penalties In Wellness Programs, by Jordan Rau. Kaiser Health News, July 1st, 2014.

Reports on a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which finds that “76 percent of workers thought it was appropriate for employers to offer wellness programs that promote healthy behavior. But a majority opposed wellness plans that had financial repercussions for workers: 62 percent did not think employers should charge higher health insurance premiums to workers who did not participate, and 74 percent said management should not charge more to those who did not reach health goals.”

High-Deductible Health Plans, Gamble For Some, On The Rise. NPR, July 28, 2013.

Does the ACA deserve the credit (or blame) for rising deductibles? by Galen Benshoof. The Incidental Economist, March 11, 2014.

Catastrophic health plans are bad policy, by Dr. Don McCanne. Healthcare Finance News, June 16, 2014.

McCanne: “Who would actually select these plans with very high deductibles but lower premiums? Very high income individuals might select these plans to insure against catastrophic losses while deciding to self insure against more modest medical costs. The problem with this is that it is a form of regressive financing of the insurance risk pools. Since average healthcare costs are well beyond the means of middle income families to pay for them, wealthier individuals need to contribute more to the collective insurance pools (as they would in a single payer financing system)…. [L]ow-premium catastrophic plans would allow them to contribute less than average instead.

“For healthy middle-income families there is a preference for the tradeoff of lower premiums for higher deductibles…. Families that remain healthy will come out ahead, but those families that later face significant health problems often find that they will face severe financial hardship as well – even bankruptcy.”

He concludes: “The insurance industry has been very successful in getting innovations that benefit themselves.”

The Illogic of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance, by Uwe E. Reinhardt. New York Times, July 3, 2014.

Looks at employer-provided health coverage in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Argues that “the premiums ostensibly paid by employers to buy health insurance coverage for their employees are actually part of the employee’s total pay package – the price of labor, in economic parlance – and that the cost of that fringe benefit is recovered from employees through commensurate reductions in take-home pay.” Concludes that it is time to “puncture the illusion that employer-provided health insurance is an unearned gift bestowed on [workers]” by employers.

Architect of Health Law Predicts a Shift Away From Employer Coverage, by John Harwood. New York Times, March 20, 2014.

Reports on new book by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Reinventing American Health Care: How the Affordable Care Act Will Improve Our Terribly Complex, Blatantly Unjust, Outrageously Expensive, Grossly Inefficient, Error Prone System, in which Mr. Emanuel, who helped to design the Affordable Care Act, says he “expects the law to produce an unadvertised but fundamental shift in where most working Americans get their health insurance — specifically, a sharp drop in the number of employers who offer coverage to their workers.”

The Cost of the Affordable Care Act to Large Employers, by Tevi D. Troy and D. Mark Wilson, American Health Policy Institute, 2014. (The AHPI is a think-tank that focuses on developments in healthcare issues “from the employer perspective.”)

The Society for Human Resource Specialists offers guidelines to its members for “How to Explain High-Deductible Plans” to employees. October 18, 2013.

For 2015, Higher Limits for HSA Contributions and Deductibles: Out-of-Pocket Maximums for High-Deductible Plans Also Up, by Stephen Miller, Society for Human Resource Specialists, April 24, 2014.

Outlines IRS guidelines for 2015 for Health Savings Accounts and HDHP out-of-pocket limits.

 

 

 

Negotiation Update for July 1

I. Administration Proposes Change in Pay Schedule from 26 to 24 Pays

The administration is proposing a change to the existing pay schedule, effective in 2015, from 26 pays per year to 24 for fiscal-year faculty and for academic-year faculty who elect to participate in the deferred-compensation pay structure in which a portion of each paycheck throughout the academic year is withheld for disbursement in equal installments year round. For all faculty, instead of payment every other Tuesday, pay days would occur twice per month, on the 5th and 20th, according to a schedule proposed by the administration. When those dates fall on a weekend or holiday, the pay date would instead be the last business day before the weekend or holiday.

While there may be some advantages to being paid on the same dates every month, there are also some potentially serious problems with what is being proposed. For one, the proposed new schedule could extend the length of time that AY faculty on 18 pays (who would still be paid in 18 equal installments) would have to go without pay after the last pay of the spring semester and before the first one in the fall, which could result in considerable financial hardship. This would not be acceptable to the faculty or to our team.

Additionally, what is being proposed could affect sick-leave accrual for FY faculty. AY faculty members accrue sick leave by semester, a process that would not be affected, but for FY faculty, sick leave accrues by pay period, “on the basis of one-half (1/2) business day for each completed pay period,” according to Article 27§7.1.1 in the 2011-14 Agreement. The administration proposes that under the new plan, FY faculty would “continue to accrue sick leave hours on a pay period basis based on hours worked.” A decrease from 26 to 24 pay periods would thus reduce sick-leave accrual by one day per year for each FY faculty member. Obviously, this would not be acceptable.

There are also likely to be tax implications, especially for high earners. The administration has informed us that their “project team” is “still testing some scenarios for tax withholdings.”

For all of these reasons, the chapter leadership has requested to negotiate this pay proposal rather than have it imposed on the faculty. Our team is exploring all the implications of this proposal and has consulted with several faculty colleagues with relevant expertise as well as with legal counsel.

The team also invites feedback from all colleagues who wish to weigh in on this important issue. Please tell us what you think about the possibility of a change in the pay schedule from 26 to 24 pays by responding to the survey in the email version of this update sent to the faculty on July 1.

II. Shared Governance. Article 37: Long-Range Planning

Since our last update, the two sides have discussed several articles that concern shared governance and are close to agreement on Article 37. In the 2011-14 Agreement, this article, titled “Long-Range Planning,” articulates the faculty’s right to participate in such planning and codifies the right of the WMU-AAUP to appoint faculty members to committees engaged in such work. Our team is working now to expand the article to include evaluation, such as that associated with academic program reviews. Colleagues may recall that the WMU-AAUP had to file a grievance last fall before the chapter’s right (under Article 4) to appoint a colleague to the Academic Program Review project management team was honored. Our team is responding to past problems like that one as well as working proactively to avoid future such issues in their proposed revision to Article 37, which will codify the faculty’s right to participate in and the chapter’s right to appoint members to “any long-range, strategic, or institutional planning or evaluating body or committee.” The two sides are near agreement.

The chapter’s right to appoint is critical to real shared governance on our campus. What distinguishes the role of WMU-AAUP appointees from other faculty members who serve on university committees is the chapter appointee’s unique charge: In addition to participating in the work of the committee, the chapter appointee is also charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the procedures and recommendations of the committee accord with the Agreement. Chapter appointees consult regularly with the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee so that we are able to evaluate through the lens of the contract any recommendations that come from the committee, so that we are aware of and able to keep the faculty informed about important projects and initiatives underway on our campus, and so that we can make sure that a given committee’s work doesn’t start to creep across any contractual boundaries. Our team’s work on Article 37 will help to resolve ambiguities that in the past might have prevented the faculty – and the WMU-AAUP on its behalf – from exercising its full rights to shared governance.

III. Shared Governance. Article 16: Evaluation of Faculty Professional Competence

In the spring of 2013, the Association Council voted to recommend a return to paper course evaluations, citing low participation rates in the online evaluation system, the resulting unreliability of course evaluation data and its use in tenure and promotion decisions, and concerns about security of the data. At the October 2013 chapter meeting, the faculty passed its own resolution to return to paper evaluations. The chapter leadership informed the administration at the time of both of these recommendations. The administrations has agreed to consider the recommendations, and the topic is now under discussion at the bargaining table.

Our team is taking seriously the concerns of the faculty about course evaluations. In addition to negotiating for a return to paper evaluations, as the faculty has directed, our team is also working to reinforce and strengthen the faculty’s role in the evaluation of teaching. Our position is that the faculty is without question the best qualified to conduct such evaluations, the processes and standards for which must necessarily be informed by the diverse academic disciplines at WMU and by the best practices for each. Specifically, our team is proposing that Article 16 make clear that department faculties shall determine the extent to which student ratings are considered in the evaluation of faculty professional competence, including in tenure and promotion reviews.

IV. Proposed New Wellness Program

On June 26, the administration brought to the table representatives from the Office of Human Resources and from Holtyn Associates, the vendor selected to manage a proposed new wellness program at WMU. Holtyn has run a wellness program here since 2006. However, the new program is substantially different from what has been available up to now as an employee benefit. The difference is that the administration now wants to link participation in the program to employee health insurance by offering a financial “incentive,” in the form of a slight reduction in the employee’s insurance premium contribution, in return for participating in the wellness program.

While we are in favor of wellness, we have concerns about this proposal. As reported in the WMU-AAUP Advocate newsletter last fall, the WMU-AAUP was excluded from participation in the activities of the WMU wellness committee for much of 2013, during which time critical decisions were made about the program now being introduced. When an HR official approached the chapter leadership in March of this year to tell us they plan to implement the program this summer, we submitted a request to bargain and asked for information about the program. Both requests were denied. However, the administration has since apparently reconsidered their willingness to bargain, and the wellness program has been brought to the table. Now that we have had a chance to hear them out, our concerns with what is being proposed include the following:

Privacy and confidentiality. In order to qualify for the “incentive,” participants in the wellness program are required to submit to biometric testing and to complete a “health risk assessment” survey that contains personal, presumptive, and intrusive questions (e.g., “Have you been annoyed when others say you have had too much to drink?” and “During the past 4 weeks, how much did your health problems affect your productivity while you were working?”).

As we reported in the Advocate last fall, while the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes a privacy rule that prevents healthcare providers from sharing an individual’s health information with their employer, it was not clear whether HIPAA rules apply to “wellness” program vendors who are not technically healthcare providers. We raised this question at the bargaining session on June 26, and the representatives from Holtyn confirmed that while the company complies voluntarily with HIPAA, it is not compelled by law to do so. We therefore have to reiterate our original concerns about the privacy of the health information that participants would be required to provide in order to qualify for the incentive. Should any conflicts of interest arise (in relation to an insurance claim, for example), we have no way to ensure that the vendor would protect faculty interests over those of our employer, who is of course the vendor’s client.

The “incentive.” Under the Affordable Care Act, federal law allows employers to offer incentives for wellness program participation of up to 30 percent of the employee’s share of the premium. However, the incentive on offer – $20 per month, or $9.23 per pay (before taxes) – amounts to only around four percent of the family premium for 2014 ($5,664) and six percent of the two-person premium ($3,927). That seems unlikely to entice faculty on those plans – 60 percent of the Board-appointed faculty are on the family plan or two-person plan – to share their private data in return for what will have very little real impact on their astronomical premiums. For those on the employee-only plan, the incentive before taxes is a more generous 26.8 percent of the 2014 premium.

At a time when we have no idea yet what the administration might have in mind in terms of coverage and costs for the 2014-17 contract, we do not believe that it would be wise to agree on behalf of the bargaining unit to accept the proposed new wellness program as it has been described to us. We believe that the better option is first to negotiate hard on faculty healthcare costs and only then to address the wellness proposal. At this time, along with senior administrators, Board-appointed faculty pay the highest health-insurance premiums of any employee group at WMU.

Next up at the bargaining table:

  • July 8: The administration will present information on healthcare.
  • July 15: The administration will present information on budget and finance.

In light of these developments, all members of the Board-appointed faculty are encouraged to attend the special chapter meeting on Friday, July 18, at 1:30 p.m. in rooms 157-159 of the Bernhard Center.

As you can see from this update and from the topics on the schedule for next week, things are starting to heat up at the table. But never fear: Cynthia, Bilinda, Onaiwu, and Tom are keeping their heads cool and their spirits high and staying focused on their mission: to prepare a strong case on the faculty’s behalf and to bring us a contract that prioritizes the academic mission of the university, strengthens faculty rights, and improves our living and working conditions, all of which have taken hits in recent years.

Many thanks to all of you who came out to the ice cream social on June 17! We hope you had as good a time as we did supporting our team and enjoying an afternoon of ice cream and solidarity. We’ve said it before: Our team is doing a fantastic job for us at the table, but their best leverage comes from the visible and vocal support of the faculty. A good turnout at chapter events sends the message that the faculty is behind the team and paying close attention to what is happening at the table. In that spirit, we hope to see you at the chapter meeting on Friday, July 18!

Finally, you can catch up on negotiation news any time here on the blog and by following the WMU-AAUP on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, we invite your questions and feedback. And please keep those notes of support and solidarity coming!

#GoWMUAAUP        #StrongerTogether

WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees

Remarks by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick
Meeting of the Board of Trustees

April 9, 2014

In my remarks to the board last June, I referenced a report by the national AAUP Committee on College and University Governance that identifies a significant decrease nationwide in communication between university faculties and their governing boards. As I noted at that time, the report suggests that the move toward less frequent and more strictly mediated communication coincides both with an increasing corporatization of higher education and a decrease in shared governance, including when it comes to the critical decisions that have the potential to radically shift the priorities or even change the academic identity of the university. As examples in that June address, I talked about faculty concerns about the process by which gender inequity was (ostensibly) being addressed and their many questions about the academic program review.

I maintained at that time – and I still believe – that we can all agree that it is in the best interests of WMU and all of its stakeholders for us – the Board and the faculty – to communicate directly and to work collaboratively.

And so in that spirit of open communication, collaboration and mutual respect, today I bring to your attention the topic of a proposed new “wellness program” for WMU faculty and staff.

The packets I’ve brought for you contain a memo from the Human Resources office dated March 10, 2014, titled “Implementation of WMU Wellness Program,” which projected an April 2014 announcement of the program – presumably that means it was be announced to faculty and staff this month, although that does not seem to have happened yet – and a May 2014 implementation of the program. Bullet points on the memo refer to a financial “incentive” of $20 per month toward health insurance “co-shares” (not a term that is used in our current health plan, so we don’t know what it means. Premiums, copays, other costs?). Anyway, these incentives would be earned by individual faculty and staff colleagues in exchange for completing a “health-risk assessment” and a “complete health screening,” along with a few other requirements.

Upon receipt of that March 10 memo, I noted to HR that their proposed May 1 implementation date is problematic because our contract runs until September, and nothing resembling this proposed program is in it. And on March 17, the WMU-AAUP submitted a request to bargain regarding the proposed wellness program and a request for more information about the program.

On March 28, our request was denied by the administration, which has taken the position that the proposed program is not subject to bargaining. However, according to the National Labor Relations Act, health and welfare plans are considered a mandatory subject of bargaining. But I am going to leave aside for now the legal aspects of this question.

The more immediate issue I want to share with the Board has to do with the unnecessary and easily avoidable fostering of feelings of suspicion and ill-will among faculty and staff that results from a lack of honest, direct communication from the administration. We have, unfortunately, seen this kind of thing before, and on behalf of the faculty, I have to continue to question the wisdom of doing things this way. We believe that a culture of open discussion and collaboration are much healthier for the institution — those are foundational academic values — but, sadly, secrecy, non-transparency, and questionable claims that communication has been clear all along seem to keep winning the day. And especially if this wellness plan is going to be such a wonderful benefit to the university community, why can’t we know the specifics?

In their March 28 letter, the administration claims that they have “attempted to keep the WMU-AAUP well informed about changes/enhancements to the wellness program,” but that if we feel that they have “failed in this regard,” then they would be happy to meet with us to discuss it (but apparently not at the bargaining table).

You might think that the fact that we had to request specific information in the first place about the proposed new wellness program – a request they have denied – would have made it clear that in our view they have indeed “failed in this regard.” It would be interesting to see what a poll of the faculty and staff would reveal if they were asked today how much they know about the program and where they got their information (if any). It seems ironic that the administration would now simultaneously claim that they have been completely forthcoming while also insisting that we have no right to the information.

I will add here that our WMU-AAUP appointees were somehow dropped from the email list for the university-wide wellness committee in 2013 – and therefore we were not alerted to meetings of the committee nor apprised of its developments – and that as a result we were excluded from participation in this project for many months, in violation of Article 4. The situation was not corrected until we found out last fall that the wellness committee had continued to meet all last summer without informing us and insisted that the situation be rectified. Perhaps needless to add, many decisions had been made during the period of our exclusion, and upon their return to the committee, our appointees and their contributions were met with considerable resistance.

Sadly, the lack of information about the wellness program and the resistance with which our requests for information have been met seems to be only the most recent example of a disturbing and increasing trend on this campus, in which administrators communicate poorly (or not at all) with faculty and staff about important issues, and then when things don’t go as they’d hoped, they insist the faculty was part of the process all along. I point to the gender equity debacle last year and the academic program review now underway as exhibits A and B.

Contrary to the claims in the administration’s March 28 letter, the proposed new wellness program is not merely a set of “changes/enhancements” to an existing program. There’s a big difference between things like lunchtime yoga classes for faculty and staff and what is being proposed now: “health risk screenings” and “health assessments” that include biometric testing – the collection of bodily fluids – and intrusive questions into the most personal and private details of our lives.

Some of you may be familiar with what happened at Penn State when they tried to impose a program with some of the same features as what is now being considered here. Faculty and staff were horrified and outraged at what they saw as an egregious invasion of privacy by their employer and the financial costs they were to be assessed if they refused to participate. They were asked about whether they had financial problems, substance abuse issues, and whether they planned to become pregnant in the near future. Leaving aside for the moment whether wellness programs actually deliver the return on investment that their vendors promise in terms of health care costs or the improvements in employee health outcomes – and some important recent studies suggest that both can be practically negligible – the intrusive nature of existing programs at other institutions about which we have been gathering information does not suggest that this project is going to go over well at WMU.

As we look to begin our contract negotiations one week from tomorrow, we hope we can expect a good-faith collaboration that cooperates with the best interests of the university and all its constituencies in mind. The denial of a request to bargain on a highly charged topic that I can guarantee you will galvanize every employee group on this campus – once they actually find out about it, that is – is not an encouraging sign. Neither is the withholding of information in response to reasonable and legitimate requests. And so I look to all of you, members of the Board, in the hope that you will help to direct the leadership to work with the faculty toward a more open, collaborative conversation on the wellness program issue and all other matters of importance to our university.