In an effort to cover more of its rising health care expenses, the University of Alaska is considering a "spousal surcharge" of up to $1,200 for employees who have spouses covered by UA health insurance.
Another proposal is to end the practice of allowing employees to "opt out" of UA health insurance. The only exception to the policy would be if both spouses work at the university. That change would mean that 473 employees statewide who currently opt out would have to start buying insurance.
In many cases, these are people who have health care coverage from someone else in the family or some other program.
The Joint Health Care Committee recommended these changes and others Oct. 16-17, but they haven't been announced.
However, the UAF staff council blog already has details on the proposals and they are under discussion by UA employees.
A memo from Monday from Donald Smith, chief human resources officer, says the statewide human resources staff is busy transforming the proposals into "UA Choice Plan Policy and Procedures." The staff council blog interprets the memo as a statement from the statewide administration that the changes have been approved.
An earlier posting on the UAF Staff Council blog from Sunday said the spousal surcharge and elimination of the opt-out option "have received mixed responses from staff and the staff representatives on the committee "voted against taking away the opt out."
The university says that employees cover about 17 percent of total health care costs and ending the option to decline insurance will spread that burden.
"A counterpoint to this position is that it is also possible that some of those opt outs brought back into the pool will bring high health care costs increasing total health care costs," the staff council blog says.
On Nov. 13, a question on the UAF Grapevine blog asked about the proposals:
Why are UAF employees being kept in the dark about decisions being made right now about our health care options for next year? Apparently it has been decided that the opt-out option will be removed and everyone who has opted out will be require to pay for UA health coverage - even when they have better and less expensive coverage elsewhere. Who decided this was a good idea? Why are those making these decisions not listening to the employees who have been able to make comments through the UAF staff council blog - the only place the information was apparently shared? Most comments said they wanted the opt-out option left in place. I really doubt the premiums collected are going to off set the costs of care all the currently opted out employees will bring back to the plan. I am sure all employees will them be required to pay for this with higher premiums, again, the following plan year.
In response, Erika Van Flein wrote:
The JHCC met Oct. 16-17 to review several plan options and voted to eliminate the opt out option with the exception of dual career university couples, meaning that if both spouses work for the UA in benefit-eligible jobs, one may opt out to be the spouse on the other's plan. This exception was influenced by comments on the staff blog, and input from other employee groups. But it was also determined that the benefits of having the larger pool of employees on the plan far outweighed the advantages of allowing a select few to opt out.
Other changes were also recommended, and motions passed, but the motions just recently been forwarded to the Chief Human Resources Officer for final approval and some implementation details are still being worked out, so it would be premature to announce other changes as final. Plans are usually finalized in December and announced in January. More information can be found on the Joint Health Care Committee website.