March 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012 -- Health care support programs follow up

QUESTION

As a follow-up to this question in March

What percentage of the health care costs passed on to staff goes to support health programs and initiatives that are not directly medical, vision or dental expenses like "WIN for Alaska" and the new "Best Doctors"?

My suggestion is, why not allocate a preventative reimbursement to each benefited employee for a healthful activity of their choice? For instance, $500 could be allocated for preventative expenditures such as gym membership, personal wellness coach, wellness magazines ect. That would give us a bigger bang for our buck. I find the Get the Point incentives tedious and the IHP sessions useless and that they do not contribute anything to my wellness, while help with my gym membership is a direct reward for a healthy activity. Perhaps people could also use their reimbursement for things such as Weight Watchers or other activity? It would give us more choice and give us more bang for our buck so that we're not paying for IHP consultants or a WIN Program that may or may not help us. 

RESPONSE

From Erika Van Flein, Director of Benefits

Thank you for your suggestion. While there may be some employees who feel the same way you do, there are employees who have had success with the Individual Health Program sessions as well as the Get the Point program, which is designed to help build healthy habits over the four-month incentive period. In addition, your proposal would require using health plan dollars for non-health plan services.

This year the UA Joint Health Care Committee is offering $50 reimbursement for health-related purchases. The program is being paid for with a pool of funds set aside annually in the faculty union contracts for wellness incentives. More on the program is available on the Win for Alaska website.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 -- UAF's website

QUESTION

Why is UAA's home page so much more vibrant and eye catching??  UAF's is so generic.  

RESPONSE

From Michelle Renfrew, Marketing and Communications Director

Our website is currently undergoing improvements. Over the past year we have been researching website best practices in higher education and researching award winning websites of peer institutions. We have made small incremental changes to the UAF website over the past several months. More visible changes will be made in the coming weeks. Each phase of our website redesign has been tested with an online community of UAF faculty, staff, students and community members. If you would like to sign up to a part of this testing group to give us feedback you can do so at https://groups.google.com/a/alaska.edu/group/UAF-web-user-testing-Team/ or email uaf.web@alaska.edu.  In the coming months we will have an updated website that is more streamlined and features our new brand strategy. 

Monday, March 26, 2012 -- Health insurance options

QUESTION

The UA health care plan is a self-insured plan, but is this the best way for UA to offer employees health coverage? Has UA ever really researched other options? What about joining the state's healthcare system? How about joining an insurance trust with other universities? If this has been researched, where are the results and why have they not been shared?

RESPONSE

From Erika Van Flein, Director of Benefits

Self-insurance is usually the best option for a group our size. We pay for our claims and administration of the plans, and maintain control of our plan design. The Joint Health Care Committee had a subcommittee to look into expanding the pool by joining with other groups. The university has also looked into this in the past and has concluded that it would not be beneficial to do so. Complications with funding arrangements, staff benefit rates and contracts with grant-funding agencies all play a part in making this unacceptable.In addition, the other group would have to agree to having UA join them, and so far the State of Alaska has not been open to this idea.

Thursday, March 22, 2012 -- Costs of health support programs

QUESTION

What percentage of the health care costs passed on to staff goes to support health programs and initiatives that are not directly medical, vision or dental expenses like "WIN for Alaska" and the new "Best Doctors"?

RESPONSE

From Erika Van Flein, Director of Benefits

While these programs may not be medical, vision or dental expenses, they do provide services that can help reduce or control plan costs by helping people with chronic illnesses better manage their health, make better health care decisions, and improve the health status of participants.

The projections for FY13, as posted on the benefits web site, include the following:

Best Doctors$125,800
Disease Management                  $149,000
WIN for Alaska                             $1,730,400
Get The Point (incentives)            $182,300
JHCC Wellness Initiatives   $300,000
Personal Best Newsletter$18,000

The total of these programs $2,505,100 represents about 3.5 percent of the total projected net plan cost of $71,264,600 for FY13.

For the memo, rate changes and Frequently Asked Questions visit the benefits website.

Thursday, March 22, 2012 -- Joint Health Care Committee recommendation

QUESTION

According to the FY13 Healthcare Q&A, question 5, the JHCC voted to nix the tobacco surcharge:

"...the Joint Health Care Committee (JHCC), by majority vote, decided to leave the employee charges for the three health plan levels the same as they had been in FY11 to mitigate the impact on employees in a single year. The JHCC decided to do this knowing that it could increase employee contributions in the subsequent years."

However, isn't the JHCC an advisory body? They do not set benefits policy. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that either UA agreed with their recommendation or decided to follow their recommendation.

RESPONSE

You are correct. UA followed the recommendation of the Joint Health Care Committee, which includes membership from a cross section the university employee population with members for the four unions, staff governance and management. Information on the Joint Health Care Committee is online.

Thursday, March 22, 2012 -- Health care rates for leadership

QUESTION

With the sticker shock of rapidly rising health care premiums, rumors are going around that executive employees and deans and directors don't pay any premiums. Is that true?

RESPONSE

No, that is not true.  All UA employees pay for UA Choice health care on the same plans and at the same rates.

Thursday, March 22, 2012 -- Health care changes communication

QUESTION

#1 Why is the information about the change to the health care plan in Dermot Cole's article on the News-Miner before staff heard about the changes?

#2 Why did we first hear about the significant insurance cost increases in the News-Miner?

#3 Why was the information on increased health care costs for staff released to the News-Miner before being released to staff?  The increases are outrageous and suggest to me that someone in accounting/actuarial in HR is incompetent, if these increases are due to flawed "predictions" just last year!  Although the University invests in measures to improve the health of its employees, it seems that those of us that are healthy, by choice, are still required to pay heavily!  I would like to see higher costs for individuals who choose to be unhealthy, and therefore cost the system more and reward those of us who do not have to spend thousands in health care. It's only right!

#4 A recent article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has me wondering: where are they getting their information? How accurate is this report?

http://www.newsminer.com/view/full_story/17879616/article-UA-employees-face-health-care-increases-of-48-to-257-percent?instance=dermot_cole_column

RESPONSE

Information was shared with the Joint Health Care Committee between March 1 - 13. One or more members of the JHCC shared the information and it made its way to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner prior to the communication with employees. Generally, Statewide Human Resources communicates as close to March 15 as possible in advance of the open enrollment period which begins April 15. The communication was scheduled to go out Monday, March 19, but was sent out Thursday, March 15 after the article appeared in the paper.

For the memo, rate changes and Frequently Asked Questions visit the benefits website.

Friday, March 9, 2012 -- Grapevine website

QUESTION

What is going on with the Grapevine? Since the new director took over M&C, it appears the questions are heavily censored, edited and filtered. I understood that its purpose was to dispel rumors and address questions asked by anonymous posters. The censoring makes me question the true anonymity of posts, to say the least.

RESPONSE

From Michelle Renfrew, Marketing and Communications director

Thank you for your question. As the new director of marketing and communications, I can assure you that no changes have been made to the way the Grapevine is managed.

Some questions take some time to research and from time-to-time there can be a backlog. If you've submitted a question that was not answered, please feel free to send it again. You can submit your question anonymously. However, there may be times when it's helpful for us to go back and clarify specific questions so that we can answer it correctly. If you submit your name and email, we'll be able to contact you with questions. 

Friday, March 9, 2012 -- Smoke-free workplace

QUESTION

Many of my staff have been inquiring about the recent article in the  Newsminer regarding the ongoing policy of making UA a smoke-free workplace.

It was reported on that there may be an upcoming policy regarding the  hiring of only non-smokers  at UA. 

Any information regarding this this issue would be greatly appreciated.

RESPONSE

From the Statewide Voice

The System Human Resources Department is exploring options to reduce health-care costs, including a possible ban on hiring tobacco users at UA in the future.

The idea is still in the early stages and will be vetted thoroughly with all governance groups, including faculty, staff and students, said UA President Pat Gamble. The policy, if it's ultimately adopted, would not affect current employees who use tobacco. Other employers in Alaska have adopted similar policies, including Providence Medical Center and Alaska Airlines, though UA's envisioned policy would not include testing for tobacco.

The tobacco-user hiring ban is under consideration after a tobacco-users surcharge, in which employees or dependents on the health-care plan who use tobacco would be charged a $600 additional fee, proved to be very unpopular. There were also concerns about how difficult it would be to enforce and that it set the stage for an adversarial relationship with employees.

Friday, March 9, 2012 -- New employee resources

QUESTION

What is the process for provisioning a new employee in the various information systems at UAF?  I have noticed that new employees are stuck longer and longer with no access to email, network resources, or UA Online, often for several weeks.  What can these employees and/or their supervisors do to speed this up?  Is it an HR or an IT issue?

RESPONSE

Karl Kowalski, Chief Information Technology Officer

OIT is aware of the delay in provisioning accounts and access to the services we provide. We are working closely with several departments to streamline the current processes to provide the necessary access to new   employees sooner.   

Friday, March 9, 2012 -- Weather on the website

QUESTION

The weather used to be on the front page of the UAF website.  Why was that taken off?

RESPONSE

As you may have noticed we're making incremental changes to the UAF homepage and because this page is considered prime real estate for all UAF information, we had to weigh what is most important to all types of users. We had quite a few technical issues with this feed (it was offline often). Based on this and because homepage space is at a premium, we have removed this feature.

There are quite a few weather links off UAF's International Arctic Research Center's site here.

We are continuing to redesign the UAF homepage, and are asking for user feedback. We encourage you to provide comments throughout this process. Find out how to sign up here:

Friday, March 9, 2012 -- University of Alaska Fairbanks name

QUESTION

UAF rightly operates as the flagship institution of the University of Alaska System. Out of curiosity, why hasn't UAF gone in the direction of, say University of California Berkeley, or University of Wisconsin Madison, and officially drop the location from the University's "name"? I know athletics has taken the initiative with their re-branding over the last few years, of which I fully support but I believe that's only one piece to the puzzle. Is there any plan to possibly move in this direction?

RESPONSE

The renaming of a major administrative unit is a significant change that would have to be supported by both Chancellor Rogers and President Gamble and approved by the UA Board of Regents. The University of Alaska comprises four major administrative units (three urban campuses and the system office) and a dozen community campuses, so there would be much to consider prior to a name change. There are no plans to go in this direction at this time.


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