Town Hall covers human resources and health care topics

David Gray, left, senior vice president for finance and business, answered a question from the audience while Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost, looked on during a Town Hall Meeting focusing on human resources and health care topics. The event took place Sept. 27 at the HUB-Robeson Center at University Park and was livestreamed to campuses across the Commonwealth. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Health care, benefits, open enrollment and the transition to the new WorkLion/Workday human resources management and payroll system were among the topics covered during a Town Hall meeting with Penn State leaders on Wednesday, Sept. 27.

Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost, and David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business, answered questions submitted by faculty and staff in advance and during the event.

Before taking questions, Jones and Gray shared updates related to the state's current budget stalemate, its potential impact on the University and President Barron's recent call to action, as well as thoughts on the nation's current climate and Penn State's ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“We know the climate in the nation and concerns about diversity and inclusion are impacting us all individually in the University community,” Jones said. “As a public university, Penn State is obligated to follow federal law and our Constitution. We are committed to free speech. We encourage it to be expressed in thoughtful ways, even when we strongly disagree with the opinions expressed.

“This is exactly the reason why hate groups have turned to universities and colleges as places to spread their racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic or homophobic messages. They know we value diversity and they know we value free speech,” Jones said. “While hateful words may be protected speech, they have a powerful negative impact on our educational community and its members. I want to say unequivocally, here today, that Penn State and its leadership denounce the reprehensible and abhorrent rhetoric from these groups and individuals. And make no mistake: As a University that fosters diversity, inclusion and equity, Penn State condemns bigotry, and hateful and racist language or activity of any kind.”

In recent weeks, fliers from hate groups have appeared on campuses across Pennsylvania, including Penn State, and Jones wanted to reassure the entire University community that “diversity and inclusion are integral to Penn State's identity, and this will not change no matter what comes our way.”

Gray agreed and added that numerous programs at Penn State, such as “All In,” and new hiring practices and recruitment and retention efforts coming out of the Office of Human Resources show the University’s commitment in a more tangible way.

Among the human resources topics discussed at the meeting was Penn State’s upcoming transition to new third-party administrators for medical and prescription drug benefits. On Jan. 1, 2018, Aetna will become the third-party administrator (TPA) for the University’s medical benefits and CVS Caremark for prescription drug coverage. Both will replace Highmark, which has been the University’s TPA for the past 10 years.

Audience questions about the changeover to administrators ran the gamut from why the University chose the new vendors and what the changes mean for employees in terms of quality and cost, to where to access information and resources about making benefits elections for 2018, and more.

With the expiration of the University’s contract with Highmark on Dec. 31, Gray said that it is standard business practice to explore options to ensure employees and the University are benefiting from the most competitive in-network prices, broad access to high-quality health care providers and reduced administrative costs.

“The new providers were chosen after extensive research, input and recommendations from a variety of parties, including the Health Care Advisory Committee and a steering committee comprised of representatives from the University Faculty Senate and University Staff Advisory Council, as well as individuals with finance, human resources and procurement expertise,” said Gray. “The verdict was very clear that the new TPAs will offer improvements in quality of services, effectiveness and cost savings.”

Along with providing more responsive and effective health care services to Penn State employees and their families, Gray said the changeover's financial benefits will be significant, with expected savings reaching $70 million for the University and $5 million for employees over the next three years.

As in past years, Jones said there will continue to be plan choice, and employees may elect to participate in either the PPO Plan or PPO Savings Plan during 2018 Benefits Open Enrollment period, which will take place from Nov. 1 to 17. The University also will continue to maintain the guiding principle of 75 percent/25 percent cost-sharing ratio for each plan — with employees bearing 25 percent.

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On the topic of keeping the same doctors after the switch to Aetna is made in January, Jones said that the vast majority of Penn State employees and families across the Commonwealth already visit physicians and facilities that are in the Aetna network. Faculty and staff can use the DocFind tool on the Aetna website to determine if a health care provider currently accepts Aetna insurance.

In addition, Aetna is in the process of pursuing contracts with out-of-network physicians currently servicing high volumes of Penn State employees and families in an effort to bring them into Aetna’s network.

Questions also focused on prescription drug coverage, and Gray said that the transition to CVS Caremark does not mean employees will only be able to use CVS pharmacies to fill prescriptions. Faculty and staff will be able to use various chain and independent retail pharmacies in the CVS network, along with University Health Services for their various prescription needs. More information about prescription coverage will be available in October, but Gray listed several large retailers such as Giant, Target, RiteAid and Walmart, where employees will still be able to have prescriptions filled. CVS Caremark has 68,000 retail pharmacies across the country in its network.

“While we partner and work directly with Aetna and CVS Caremark, it's important to remember that ultimately Penn State remains self-insured and that all health care and benefits decisions are made by the University with potential ramifications for employees and their families always in mind,” Jones said.

In response to questions about potential changes in premiums, copays, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums for 2018 health care coverage, Jones said that like most years there could be minor adjustments, but any plan design and cost sharing changes are not a direct result of the new TPAs.

Gray and Jones encouraged faculty and staff members to visit the 2018 Benefits Open Enrollment microsite for more information about the plan design and cost-sharing changes, and to participate in an upcoming in-person meeting or webinar. Aetna and CVS Caremark will also have dedicated member services lines for Penn State employees and families. Employees can also contact HR Shared Services at or 814-865-1473 for assistance, but are always encouraged to consult with their doctors when making medical decisions.

This fall’s 2018 Benefits Open Enrollment period will be the last such enrollment to take place through the Employee Self-Service Information Center (ESSIC), and the University will transition to Workday, a new human resources and payroll system, in December 2017.

Faculty and staff members will be able to use the secure online system to access and update information such as addresses, direct deposit accounts, benefits selections and tax withholdings, and some employees will also submit time worked and time off through the system. To help make training on the new system as convenient as possible, online courses and in-person training will begin for employees in October.

“The University has been running business enterprise systems on 30-year-old homegrown technology that no longer meets the needs of our large and diverse institution. Plus, with retirements, we're running out of staff members who have the skills to continue to maintain and update these systems,” Gray said. “Workday will be a much more streamlined, user-friendly resource for Penn State employees to conduct University business. It also will help Penn State keep pace with changing times and regulations around payroll and human resources.”

Other questions during the Town Hall focused on employee training and career development, raises, retirement, the recent Voluntary Retirement Plan, and the University's tobacco-free task force, among many other subjects.

On the topic of healthy living, Jones said employees will continue to be able to take advantage of member fitness programs, such as discounts at commercial gyms, through Aetna. In response to a question about Rec Hall, Jones said the facility is available to those who have a Campus Recreation membership. He added that the University is continuing conversations about how to make the facility accessible to all faculty and staff members, and that any changes will be communicated.

With regard to enterprise system transitions and other ongoing changes happening across the University, Gray asked employees to stay engaged.

“We know that we all have a bit of change fatigue, I feel it too, but hang in there,” Gray said. “To maintain our edge as a global research institution, change is unavoidable. The nature of our world is dynamic, and the administration is doing our best to not have it feel like a tsunami, and to sequence changes, like with the business enterprise systems, in a way that is manageable for everyone.”

Jones and Gray encouraged faculty and staff members to continue to offer input and feedback about topics that are meaningful and important to them.

“We value your input and want you to tell us what's working, what's not and if you have questions, so that we can turn your feedback into something actionable to make Penn State the best it can be,” Jones said. “We're all in this together. Be part of the process, and get in there and roll up your sleeves. Penn State is an amazing institution filled with exceptional people serving students and communities across the Commonwealth and beyond. Thank you for what you do to make this a great institution.”

To view the Town Hall in its entirety, the session will be archived and available to watch online at

Since 2015, Town Hall meetings have provided opportunities for members of the Penn State community to receive updates on University initiatives, hear from leaders about key issues, discover how decisions are made, ask questions and provide feedback. Town Halls are sponsored by Penn State Today and the University Staff Advisory Council.

Last Updated September 29, 2017