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Employee health care has limited options

November 15, 2007

For the staff and faculty of UW-River Falls, decision time has come.

On Nov. 13, they were forced to choose new health care coverage and, in many cases, find a new health care provider.

The three provider options that State of Wisconsin employees must choose from—Humana West, Anthem and the Standard Plan—have caused anger and confusion among the UWRF community because they do not cover visits to any doctors or specialists in Minnesota. Given the proximity of River Falls to the Twin Cities and its many hospitals, clinics and doctors, this is a huge inconvenience for the approximately 40 percent of UWRF staff and faculty who call that area home.

In addition to not covering doctor or hospital visits in Minnesota, the new options also have different levels of coverage called tiers. Tier 1 is the least amount of coverage and therefore the cheapest. Tier 2 and Tier 3 coverage gets broader but also more expensive. There is also inequality in the distribution of providers among the different counties, as Pierce County does not have as many Tier 1 options as most other counties in Wisconsin.

Although the original date for staff and faculty to decide upon an option was set for Nov. 5, discretion among the plans that the providers were promoting pushed the date back to Tuesday.

“Two of the three providers continued to provide inconsistent responses to questions about the coverage of their plans,” Faculty Compensation Committee Chair Stephen Olsen said. “In one case, the provider had not signed contracts with providers they listed as being part of the network. Therefore, it was virtually impossible for the employees to make an informed decision.”

According to Olsen, not much has changed over the past few weeks that this issue has been developing. Thus, there have been no re-bidding of plans or reduction in price of the plans.

“Despite the University’s request for specific improvement to the situation … the people in Madison responsible for this situation—primarily the Employee Trust Fund and the Office of State Employee Relations—have done absolutely nothing to try and improve our situation,” he said.

Olsen said he believes that this issue has resulted in a “major change in the employment relationship between employees and the State of Wisconsin.”

He notes that these poor health care options will severely impact the University’s ability to retain and recruit faculty.

“Even if faculty chose to remain at UWRF, the morale on this campus has been severely affected,” he said.

And with winter approaching, Olsen warned the staff and faculty to remain illness-free.

“Nobody should be relaxed, but they better try to stay healthy,” he said. “All three of the options could be a financial disaster if an employee or family member has a high-need medical situation next year.”