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Professors petition against GW over rising health insurance costs

Desiree Halpern | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Desiree Halpern | Hatchet Staff Photographer

More than 100 professors have signed a petition protesting rising healthcare costs at GW, demanding that administrators roll back this year’s 12.5 percent increase.

Faculty accused top leaders of failing to communicate the premium hikes after they saw a 43 percent rise in copay for specialist visits and a general increase in out-of-pocket payments for hospital visits for all three plans offered. Administrators countered that faculty sat on the advisory committee that determined the new prices, and that the Faculty Senate was informed of the changes last fall.

“We are outraged by the university administration’s unilateral actions in making drastic increases to our health premiums, copayments, deductibles, and prescription costs,” the petition reads. It also points to out-of-pocket costs, which rose by nearly one-quarter over the past two year.

Individual out-of-pocket spending showed an increase of 4.8 percent in 2012 nationally, according to the latest data gathered by the Health Care Cost Institute in their Health Care Cost and Utilization Report.

Benjamin Hopkins, an associate professor of history and international affairs, said he is frustrated by substantial increases over the last two years.

“I just do not think either the increase, nor the way that the increase has been presented to the faculty, is really appropriate or shows a desire to partner with the faculty by either the Board of Trustees or the administration,” he said in an interview.

Hopkins also said GW has not been upfront about the costs and that the increases were “buried” in GW’s email to faculty in September. He said faculty should not only have been informed, but also given a say in the rising costs.

GW has said that the rising costs stem from an”>18 percent increase in claims in 2012, which drove up the costs of copayments, deductibles and premiums. The following year, costs increased about 10 percent.

David Greene, the associate vice president of human resources, said in an email that his office sought feedback from GW’s Benefits Advisory Committee to “determine the best pricing options without compromising on quality.”

“I understand the concerns raised by those who have signed the petition, and while we welcome their feedback, rising healthcare costs have become increasingly commonplace for organizations that offer employee benefits,” he said, adding that Human Resources hosted multiple information sessions about benefits for GW staff and faculty in October.

The University initially projected a 25 percent increase for this year’s health care costs, but GW ultimately pared back costs and cut that figure in half, Vice President of Human Resources Sabrina Ellis said in September.

Service Employees International Union, a national group that represents more than 1,000 part-time faculty at GW, has helped organize an effort to retract the cost increases. The group has accused the University of making a “unilateral decision” without considering faculty voices.

Andrew Zimmerman, a history and international affairs professor who signed the petition, said the cost increase cut into his salary.

“All of us who get insurance through the University will see our take-home pay reduced to cover the higher premiums,” he said. “When you get your pay cut like that, it is a matter of dignity to protest it.”

He said he was more frustrated because the increases went through the Faculty Senate, which he indicates makes it necessary for a “grassroots component” to exist. Some Faculty Senate members – including Kathryn Newcomer, director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration – signed the petition.

The GW employee premium increase of 12.5 percent is an outlier in a national trend, which showed a 3.25 percent rise in premiums for employee-only plans and a 5 percent rise for family coverage plans, according to a survey conducted by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources in 2013.

The same survey showed that 27 percent of universities increased their employee premium as a result of the Affordable Care Act, which requires all individuals to purchase health care coverage or face fines.

Nearly half of GW’s $98.5 million spending on health care benefits in 2014 went toward medical and prescription drug costs.

This post was updated May 26, 2014 to reflect the following correction:
In a photo caption, The Hatchet incorrectly spelled Eric Arnesen’s last name. It is Arnesen, not Arneson. We regret this error.

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