UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Improved communications, increased opportunities to provide feedback on proposed benefits changes and town hall meetings are a few of the steps Penn State’s Office of Human Resources has taken over the past year to keep the University community informed and involved in health care changes and decisions, according to a recent internal report to the University Faculty Senate.
The report from the Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits in conjunction with the University Benefits Office was presented in December 2015. The report catalogues the steps taken to address questions raised in an April 2014 Faculty Senate Health Care Task Force Report.
Those efforts come as the University continues to experience health care costs increasing at a rate faster than inflation. Penn State’s medical plan is self-funded, meaning that the University pays the costs of claims as they are incurred versus an insured plan, in which Penn State pays premiums to an insurance company, which then pays claims. Employees share in the cost of the medical plan through out-of-pocket expenses such as premium contributions, copays, coinsurance and deductibles. In 2015, health care costs for active employees approached $200 million, a nearly 5 percent increase over the previous year.
Among the key steps taken to address questions raised in the 2014 task force report was the creation of a Health Care Advisory Committee (HCAC) of faculty, staff and students with expertise in health care and related fields.
Information from the HCAC is being shared regularly with the Faculty Senate Benefits Committee and the Joint Committee on Insurance and Benefits (JCIB), a group that brings together faculty members appointed by the chair of the Faculty Senate with other members appointed by President Eric Barron. A list of participants can be found here.
The December report also notes the important role the HCAC, along with the JCIB, plays in advising the administration and reviewing proposed changes to health care benefits. The discussion of critical health care information within both committees imparts vital information and “helps ensure transparency and two-way communication throughout the decision-making process regarding health care benefits,” the report notes.
Susan Basso, vice president for Human Resources, said the University hopes that by providing frequent informational updates through a variety of venues, employees will be better able to stay actively involved in managing their health care and make the best choices.
“Health care has gotten very complex, so it’s understandable that people want more information and they want it in a digestible form. The rising costs of providing health care for employees and their families is a challenge for all employers, not just Penn State. We continue to grapple with the spiraling cost of health care and we are working to find the best solutions,” Basso said.
“These efforts to expand information sharing and participation in the decision-making process with faculty and staff are something employees have sought and we have made an important commitment to ensure their voices are heard.” she noted. “We also want our employees to know where to find the information they need, quickly.”
Basso said the University Faculty Senate is one key area where more information can be easily found.
Other steps include:
- The JCIB “reviews each proposed change to any feature of the health care plans and deliberates the basis for that change in health care data and the rationale of that change for benefiting employee health care and wellness. The JCIB details the dollar costs and value of the health care plans per employee.”
- A subcommittee of HCAC will present strategies for health care plans and cost sharing to the Faculty Senate and the Joint Committee on Insurance Benefits before implementation.
- The Office of Human Resources has “significantly increased” communications with employees, including having informational articles appear regularly in Penn State Today and information on the OHR website.
- Three Town Hall meetings (two University-wide and one for Office of Physical Plant employees) with University administrators were held in 2015 to share information and respond to questions on a range of topics. Those meetings were live-streamed and are available online.
- OHR created new positions to focus on the University’s total compensation strategy and to provide regular communications to the University community.
- The report noted that all health information is strictly confidential and by law, individual employee’s medical information is not visible to the University.