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Editor’s note: Commentary is a section that provides university classified and unclassified staff and faculty members an opportunity to express their opinions in The Miami University Report. Contributions should be directed to Bill Houk (physics).
Is anybody up there listening?
The ad hoc Advisory Committee on Health Care has issued its report on how best to shift more health care costs to University employees and out of the central University budget. To no one’s surprise — since this was mandated by the Trustees and central administration — this cost shifting in large measure takes the form of imposing upon employees premiums for health care coverage.
Perhaps somewhat surprising, and certainly a relief to skeptics about this whole initiative, the ad hoc committee’s recommendations are modest and conscientiously considerate of the least compensated employees. If its recommendations are accepted — and this is an enormous "if" — employees earning less than $40,000/year will initially experience no additional health care costs by the imposition of a premium. And the most highly compensated employees — central administrators, for instance — will incur no more than a $600/year cost for premiums. Further, the ad hoc committee recommends a four-year moratorium before increasing premiums no more than 15 percent.
Clearly this committee of hard-working staff and faculty, under Susan Kay’s leadership, has done careful and conscientious work and produced recommendations that if adopted will not be terribly burdensome on University employees at least for several years to come.
But no one should be sanguine that the ad hoc committee’s most significant recommendations will be passed on by administrators to the Trustees or adopted by the Trustees even if endorsed. Even less should we expect that modifications of the ad hoc committee’s recommendations by the University bodies making up our nominal governance system — most centrally, University Senate — will get a serious hearing or endorsement.
In an earlier column on the process by which MU employee health coverage was about to change (5 September), I complained of "imperial decision-making" and the post hoc "pretense" of consultation favored by the managers of this university. The evidence grows that these proclivities are being indulged at an escalating rate:
• Since 5 September we have learned (from Mr. Norman, at University Senate on 21 October) that the University received $12,000,000 back from Anthem as its share of what Anthem was legally compelled to return to clients when it moved from being a nonprofit BC/BS to a publicly traded profit making corporation. But without consultation with those who are now asked to pay a greater share of their health care costs, the President and his few advisers decided to put only $2,000,000 of this into health care reserves and to use the other $10,000,000 for other purposes.
• Further, on 9 September Mr. Norman decreed a new University policy on "Charitable Campaign Solicitation." The "new policy" was narrowly drawn and permitted the restoration of privilege to Butler County United Ways to collect contributions via payroll deduction. When the policy was brought to Senate’s attention (by this Senate member, not by Mr. Norman), Senate recommended — by a 3 to 1 margin — that the policy be made more cosmopolitan by covering four counties in SW Ohio and that charitable organizations providing environmental and fine arts education and services be included as well as those engaged in "direct human services."
• Mr. Norman has already signaled (Senate, 21 October) that he does not intend to recommend to the Trustees, perhaps because he does not believe they will receive sympathetically, his own Advisory Committee’s recommendation for a 4-year freeze on the newly imposed health plan premiums or a 15 percent cap on annual increases.
Before the end of this term we shall learn whether there remains any willingness on the part of central administration and the Trustees to listen to those over whom they exercise power and respect what remains of our tattered and abused governance system. Here are some of the ways we will know:
• The earliest test will be whether Mr. Norman accepts Senate’s strongly supported modifications of the Charitable Campaign Solicitation Policy or whether he ignores them.
• Knowing that Mr. Norman has already rejected his own Advisory Committee’s recommendation for a freeze and cap on higher premiums for health care, the Senate is likely to make its own considered recommendation on these matters. Will these be more sympathetically considered when Mr. Norman makes his report to the Trustees in December?
• All of us are disturbed by rapidly increasing health care costs and all have an interest in real cost containment (not simply cost shifting). Enlightened leadership of the University might have undertaken such an inquiry prior to doing cost shifting, but it is not altogether too late. Again, if Senate, or any of its committees, recommends such a study, will it be supported?
Date Published: 10/31/2002