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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