With health care reform comes sweeping changes for every U.S. citizen – including ACU employees. While most Americans will not be affected by many of the new laws for several years, faculty and staff will experience their own reform in health benefits starting Jan. 1, 2011.
Wendy Jones, director of human resources, presented ACU’s new health benefits plan Thursday.Â One of the government’s changes concerns employees’ flexible spending accounts, which employees can take from their paychecks and put on a spending card to use for medical costs, Jones said.
Employees are receiving the account because the money is not taxable and employees receive the full amount at the beginning of the year, Jones said. The federal government is enforcing a new maximum limit of $2,500 annually from ACU’s current cap of $8,000 starting Jan. 1, 2013. Jones said employees will also no longer be able to use this new account for some over-the-counter drugs without a prescription in 2011.
Another major change concerns health insurance providers. ACU is switching from FirstCare to BlueCross BlueShield, which is more equipped to meet ACU’s needs and will reduce costs for the university, Jones said.
BlueCross offers a 24-hour nurse line, a vast network of health care providers employees can choose from without a referral and the option to service at Abilene Regional Hospital or Hendrick Hospital, Jones said.
“That’s really going to be great for a lot of us,” Jones said. “All hospitals nationwide who take BlueCross will be open for us.”
One of the biggest changes from the switch is the discounted rate it offers through providers in place of co-pays. While employees had been able to make a doctor’s appointment for a $20 co-pay, they will now have to pay the discounted price, which will vary by provider.
Rather than an HMO or POS plan, ACU has set up a Health Care Account, a set amount of money ACU will provide each employee and his or her family every year for medical and prescription costs only. This money will make up part of an annual deductible – the rest of which will be the employees’ responsibility.
Employees can choose when and how much they use their account to cover medical expenses, Jones said. Any money left over will be added to the next year’s account.Â If employees’ medical costs meet the deductible’s threshold, ACU will pay 100% of their medical costs for the rest of the year.
Single employees will have a Health Care Account of $1,000 and a deductible of $3,000. Employees with spouses or children will have a Health Care Account of $2,000 and a deductible of $6,000, Jones said.
Dr. Steven Ward, associate professor of music, questioned the philosophy behind the Health Care Account allotment system.
“How is a couple with no children costing more than a couple with two children?” Ward said in the presentation. “It doesn’t make sense how that helps the family.”
Ward, a father of two, said while he likes some of the changes to ACU’s health benefits, he is concerned about the $4,000 gap families will have to pay out of pocket before receiving more than $2,000.
“I’m going to have to look very carefully at the way it’s going to impact our family,” Ward said. “Obviously in the new system we’re going to meet that $2,000 faster than before because we don’t have co-pay.”
Dr. Cheryl Bacon, chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, said she was a faculty representative during the planning stage of the new health benefits plan. ACU is allocating the same amount for couples as families because a couple without children is statistically more costly than a couple with children, Bacon said.
The plan will probably be more beneficial for singles and larger families than those who fall between that range, said Rachel Foster, benefits and compensation specialist. However, she said the plan should help employees lower their health care costs and prepare the university for the national health care reform.
“It’s very much of a consumer-driven plan that will start to make employees more aware of their health care costs,” Foster said. “We believe that making this change in 2011 is going to put us ahead of the game for many health care changes to come.”
For more information about the changes in ACU health benefits, including the slide-show presentation Jones presented, staff and faculty can visit www.employeebenefitswebsite.com/acu.com/acu.