Benefits Changes Roll Out as Planned, Despite Uproar

UPDATED: November 6, 2014, at 2:10 p.m.

Despite a unanimous vote by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tuesday condemning the University’s changes to non-union health benefits, the new plans rolled out as scheduled on Wednesday.

The annual open-enrollment period for health benefits coverage through the University’s health care plan began Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. and will close in two weeks on Nov. 19.

According to the Harvard Human Resources website, this open enrollment period is the only opportunity for current employees to enroll in health benefits unless they experience a change in status, as defined by the IRS, such as marriage, divorce, or a birth.

University President Drew G. Faust has given no indication that the new plans will be changed given the Faculty’s vote. After the meeting Tuesday, she told The Crimson that she would be “replying in due course,” but declined to comment further.

The new benefits plan applies to the University’s non-union employees, namely administrators and teaching staff, including professors. These members of the Harvard community will see lower premiums under the new plans, but will also be expected to pay up to $250 in deductibles per year for non-routine medical appointments, and to incur 10 percent of the cost of treatment thereafter. The total out-of-pocket contribution from an employee is capped at $1,500 a year and $4,500 a year for families of three or more.

Members of FAS have criticized the policy for being “regressive” for disproportionately burdening women and employees with families. Critics also argue that the changes were unnecessary and that the administration adopted them without transparency.

History professor Mary D. Lewis, who sponsored the motion at Tuesday’s meeting prompting the vote, wrote in an email on Tuesday evening that she sees several options for moving forward with efforts to reverse the changes. She wrote, "the University could change the policy to maintain the 2014 plan design by renegotiating with its vendors, which would probably entail extending the current open enrollment period.  Failing that, it could create a temporary reimbursement fund to compensate faculty and staff while awaiting a return to the 2014 policy, offering a second open enrollment period later in the academic year."

The unanimously passed motion, filed last week, asks “for 2015, the President and Fellows be asked to replace the currently proposed health care benefit plan with an appropriately adjusted version of the 2014 health benefit package, maintaining the 2014 plan design.”

The vote does not require that Faust or the Corporation take any action on the policy but does establish the official stance of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the University’s flagship professorial body.

Non-union staff will receive their benefit cards about two to three weeks after they complete the open enrollment selection.

—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @dev_a_patel.

—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.