UPDATED: Oct. 3 2016, at 3:06 p.m.
A debate between Harvard and its dining workers over a new contract deepened when four Harvard Medical School students penned an analysis denouncing the health benefits package the University proposed to HUDS workers in June, at the start of negotiations.
HUDS workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike should the University not comply with their demands, which include increased salaries and more affordable health care benefits. Their contract expired on Sept. 17, but the two parties will continue bargaining; their last scheduled meeting is Tuesday.
During a bargaining session on Sept. 16, the four Medical School students presented a four-page analysis of Harvard’s initial health care proposal, calling it “unaffordable under state government guidelines.” Under Massachusetts health connector guidelines, a plan is considered "unaffordable" if "the lowest-cost plan that coversonly the employee costs less than 9.66% of [the] household’s income," according to its website.
Harvard put forth a plan identical to the one negotiated by its largest employee union. That plan eliminates deductibles, increases copayments, and introduces a new premium tier based on salary.
The analysis argues that Harvard’s plan “may threaten the financial security of many families of Harvard employees,” regardless of premium tiers intended to protect lower-paid employees. In addition, the Medical School students argue that workers would be better off without health insurance from Harvard entirely, because in that case they would qualify for the subsidized health insurance on the state insurance exchange.
Harvard spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga challenged their analysis, writing in a statement that the document “takes the worst-case scenario under the Harvard plan and compares it to a best-case scenario in Mass. Health.”
The analysis uses a hypothetical worker with a salary of $30,000 and a family of three as an example to compare how much an individual would pay in premiums through Harvard’s plan and what they would pay if they were enrolled in a given state plan. The students argue that, under Harvard’s plan, the worker could pay as much as $233 a month in premiums for family coverage versus $0 through the Massachusetts plan.
The average HUDS worker makes approximately $34,000 in annual salary, according to deLuzuriaga; HUDS workers do not typically work year round. And, in some cases, deLuzuriaga wrote, workers would actually pay more for premiums under the state plan.
Harvard takes an individual’s annual income into account when selecting which benefits package to provide, while MassHealth considers family income. According to deLuzuriaga, in 2016 the lowest premium tier for an individual under Harvard’s plan is $91 per month, and premiums for families cost $246.
91The Medical School analysis and subsequent University refutation both deepens and underscores an increasingly polarized debate between Harvard and its students. Groups of activists across the University, including at the Law School, the College, and the Medical School, have each publicized their support of HUDS’s willingness to strike.
Some students from the Racial Justice Coalition at the Medical School participated in the recent talks between the University and its workers. Students also organized a “Social Justice Summit” several weeks ago to outline goals for diversity within the school, and they specifically discussed the HUDS negotiations at their event. In addition, a few weeks ago, nearly 100 Medical and Dental school students rallied at Longwood’s iconic Gordon Hall in support of the workers.
The Medical students’ analysis also criticized Harvard’s reimbursement program—in which workers must keep and turn in receipts for procedures—though deLuzuriaga disputed the numbers students presented. Their analysis argues that, under the proposed health plan, workers would be reimbursed if their copayments exceed $1,025 for an individual or $2,000 for a family. DeLuzuriaga wrote, though, that the “co-pay reimbursement” threshold for individuals is $480 while the threshold for families is $890.
Several Medical students involved with the issue said they felt a personal responsibility to support HUDS workers because the issue revolves around health care.
Analysis co-author and Medical student Rahul Nayak said, “As Med students, we were concerned about the health implications that this would have on the workers.”
Although HUDS workers are typically associated with undergraduate dining halls, some workers staff a cafe in Longwood.
—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.
—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: October 3
A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that the lowest premium tier for an individual in Harvard's 2016 health benefits plan is $91 per year. In fact, it is $91 per month.
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