Health plan decision-making and negotiating

Form a benefits committee. Invite cross-campus collaboration. Understand the union impact.

Form a benefits committee.

At Lawrence University in Wisconsin, a benefits advisory committee works with an insurance broker to contain costs and determine the best plan designs while providing competitive employee benefits. The committee, which is chartered by the president, includes several administrators from finance and HR along with two faculty members.

“The committee is an active part of the university’s shared governance process,” says Chris Lee, vice president for finance and administration. In recent years, the committee has added coverages to the plan periodically (one recent example: broadened autism coverage) to ensure the plan is an inclusive and attractive benefit.

Invite cross-campus collaboration.

At Penn State, intense collaboration is the norm. “HR collaborates with key stakeholders in multiple committees that include representation from faculty, administration, staff, finance and clinicians,” says Gregory Stoner, senior director of compensation and benefits.

Participatory groups include the university senate committee on faculty benefits, the joint committee on insurance and benefits, and the president’s healthcare advisory committee.

Understand the union impact.

For institutions with unions, changes in health plans may become bargaining issues. But careful wording of contracts may head off problems. That’s been the case at Emerson College in Boston, which has both staff and faculty union employees.

“Historically, there have been no health insurance change initiatives that have been impeded based on the language in our bargaining agreements,” says Peter Owens, director of compensation and benefits.

While major changes could be subject to collective bargaining, Emerson’s union contracts permit  adjustments in premiums and modest changes—in areas such as copayments for services—with the provision that staff and faculty are treated uniformly. If benefit plan changes are proposed that aren’t subject to collective bargaining,

HR receives feedback from and conducts presentations to leadership of union groups, the college’s faculty assembly and a human resources advisory council for staff positions.


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