HUDS, Health, and Harvard

Harvard has legitimate concerns, but workers need a better option on copays

As the historic Harvard University Dining Services strike continues into a new week, the University has continued making favorable amendments to its original offers to Local 26. In addition to offers of a $250 per week summer stipend and more flexibility in health plan options, Harvard has also proposed increasing its subsidy for low income workers’ premiums from 85 percent to 87 percent. All these concessions come, however, in the form of a package that require the same increase in co-pays that originally caused negotiations to stall. While Harvard has valid economic concerns, we continue to believe that the University is not justified in imposing less affordable health care on HUDS workers.

Nationally, health care costs have been on a constant rise, and as a supplier of health insurance, Harvard is reasonable in wanting to cut costs. With unchanged co-pays, external increases in health care cost would translate into higher costs for the University. With its new plan, the University is trying distribute a portion of these rising costs onto workers. The extent to which this is important is evident from Harvard’s willingness to weigh so many other financial concessions against its health insurance changes.

Unfortunately, these rises in health care costs have to be paid for by someone. Though the burden that the University will face in offering the health insurance plan currently in place is in no way insignificant, passing these costs onto HUDS employees is not fair. As low-income workers living in the already-expensive Boston area, HUDS workers are in an even worse position than the University to bear the burden of rising healthcare costs.

Increases in health care costs cut directly into the income meant for the workers and their families. For low-income workers, this effect will be even more dramatic. These are employees for whom small dollar-value changes in income have dramatic effects on welfare. Furthermore, such increases in the cost of healthcare can have the more sinister effect of discouraging medical treatment. Those who suffer accidents, preventable chronic illnesses, or other health setbacks that can be overcome with treatment may have to make compromises due to higher co-pays, and potentially accrue more severe health issues. Though Harvard’s scheme of co-pay reimbursements mitigates this effect to a degree, we fear that the most prestigious University in the world is setting a poor example for worker equity by pursuing a cost-containment measure that harms its lowest-paid employees.

Ultimately, we continue to believe that Harvard’s economic concerns cannot outweigh the costs that workers may bear under the new health insurance plan. HUDS employees, like all of the low-income workers who ensure that this University works, are just as much members of the Harvard family as students, staff, and faculty, and we miss their positive presence in the dining halls. Harvard has made great strides in its offers on summer pay and premium support, and we hope that a truly progressive solution on the issue of co-pays will be able to bring these negotiations and the strike to a swift conclusion. In the meantime, we continue to stand by HUDS workers, and hope to see them back in the dining hall soon.

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