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University of Alaska scraps health care proposals

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Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 9:00 am | Updated: 9:21 am, Wed Feb 27, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The University of Alaska has formally scrapped a pair of controversial proposals to cut its growing health care costs.

A UA advisory committee voted Feb. 1 to drop its endorsement of the measures, which included a surcharge for employee spouses with health insurance and a requirement that all employees pay into the plan. Michelle Rizk, UA’s chief human resources officer, approved the committee’s recommendations last week.

The 17-member UA Joint Health Care Committee had endorsed the ideas last year as ways to help rein in health care costs. The measures included a monthly surcharge of $100 to employee spouses with health insurance, along with a policy that mandated all employees purchase insurance. That move would theoretically bring down costs by spreading the risk among more people.

The Joint Health Care Committee — comprised of employee unions, staff and UA administrators — decided against the plans after receiving a poor response at several health care forums. The committee will meet again today to discuss its next step.

“Right now, we’re just trying to balance the money going out with the money going in,” UA spokeswoman Kate Wattum said.

Rising health care costs have been a growing concern at UA, which is self-insured. Because of that, health care expenses at the university are directly tied to medical costs incurred by employees.

UA has been aggressively working to cut health care costs for the past two years, following a bleak report by a consultant on the long-term viability of its program.

At that time, UA’s projected costs were expected to more than double by 2017. The projected increases were blamed on an aging, sedentary population, expensive new medical treatments and employer obligations from health care reform.

UA took significant steps toward controlling health care costs two years ago, when it boosted employee deductibles and put a greater emphasis on generic drugs.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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