Garber Defends Benefits Changes at Faculty Meeting

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 defended the change to Harvard’s health care benefits for non-union employees Tuesday, arguing that increases in health care costs at Harvard necessitated adjustments, including the introduction of a deductible in some instances and a 10 percent co-pay for policyholders.

“Nobody believes this is the perfect solution,” Garber told members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at their monthly meeting. “But there's a lot of optimism that this will help us to sustain generous health benefits.”

He said that the University Benefits Committee, which considered and ultimately recommended the changes, sees the new policy as a compromise that allows for risk protection. Without the policy change, policyholders’ premiums would have gone up by about 3.6 percent, according to Garber.

Instead, premiums were reduced by 2.5 percent and increased costs passed on to policyholders in the form of a $250 deductible at the point of care, except for routine office visits and tests, and co-payments of 10 percent after a $250 threshold is surpassed for individuals and $750 for families.

University Provost Alan M. Garber (right), pictured at Commencement 2014 ceremonies in May, defended the University's health benefits changes at the monthly faculty meeting Tuesday.


“There’s been a lot of pressure to think about whether our health plans are providing the best bang for the buck,” Garber said.

Although acknowledging that data was difficult to come by, he noted that nationally, “the trend is overwhelmingly to have employees bear more of the costs.”

Garber’s remarks were prompted by a question from History professor Mary D. Lewis, who called the new policy “regressive” and asked when and how it might be reversed.

Lewis said that the new policy will be especially burdensome to junior faculty and to those whose family members have preexisting medical conditions, a comment that elicited applause from faculty members in the room.

In his response, Garber also alluded to a Crimson article published Tuesday detailing how the University Benefits Committee mischaracterized the rise in benefits expenditures when justifying the changes to employees in official University communication. The article found that contrary to official statements, expenditures primarily increased during a two-year period in the early 2000s and have since remained steady.

Garber said that “at Harvard it doesn’t matter much what period you use, ten years or more, the fraction of our employee compensation that is attributable to medical expenditures has risen,” though he noted that “what’s really at stake here is what future health expenditures will be, not what past ones are.”

Lewis maintained her position in response, arguing that ​"since we are not just a business but a community, I think we should be absorbing that risk for junior faculty,” who she said are most at risk financially.​

A discussion of FAS’s annual report followed the question period, before History professor Alison Frank Johnson detailed the University’s new sexual misconduct policy, as well as FAS’s interim policy and procedures. Johnson chairs the FAS committee working to revise and present that interim policy to FAS Dean Michael D. Smith by the end of the term.

In accordance with rules from the Department of Education, Johnson said the University policy allows both victims and the accused access to an advisor during the proceedings of their case. This advisory role may be filled by any individual, including lawyers.

Lowell House Master Diane L. Eck said that the allowance of lawyers might create “inequity” in that some students can afford lawyers, while others cannot, an issue which Johnson acknowledged as serious.

Following Johnson’s presentation, Government professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 said that the University policy had significant flaws, including the failure to address the root cause of sexual misconduct at Harvard, which some, he said, identify as “rape culture,” and others as “hookup culture.” The new policy, instead, simply serves as a “punitive” measure, he said.

In response to the question, Johnson said that the “policy is not primarily designed to be punitive. It is admittedly reactive. We are reacting to events that have already taken place.”

Further discussion of the policy centered around the legal foundation of the federal regulations and the scope of a prohibition banning relationships between faculty members and the graduate students whom they supervise.

—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.