The University Record, January 14, 1998
By Kerry Colligan
Jackie McClain, executive director of human resources and affirmative action, spoke to and answered questions from the Senate Assembly at its December meeting. McClain addressed the process for proposing changes to the benefits program in the context of the M-CARE preference initiative, and discussed issues facing the Flexible Benefits Committee, including long-term disability enrollment and retiree benefits.
Last July, the Hospitals executive committee proposed changes to the benefits program to provide incentives for University employees to enroll in M-CARE, thus increasing patient flow in the Health System and subsequently increasing revenue. These changes were postponed indefinitely after University employees sent almost 2,000 e-mail messages to the Regents and other University officials.
There is a clear difference, McClain said, between the advantages and disadvantages of the initiative for the administration and for faculty and staff. "The challenge to the administration," McClain said, "is how to handle billing units, and how to handle the increase in cost to function." Employees, however, faced a potential $60 per month increase in the cost of medical benefits (for those choosing a plan other than M-CARE). This increase, according to McClain, would drive employees to choose M-CARE for financial reasons, eliminating any medical benefits options.
While providing only one option to employees is common, members of the Flexible Benefits Committee and the administration both expressed a desire to maintain options for employees. "Blue Cross and others will continue to be in the mix. The [flexible benefits] committee felt strongly that we continue to provide alternatives. The needs of the employees dictate that we offer alternatives," McClain said. "Everything seems to indicate that [Blue Cross] will stay around."
Likewise, she said, the initiative remains an active issue. While there is "no administrative directive on how to implement benefits changes, there is a clear understanding that changes can't come when faculty are not here to participate."
Several assembly members questioned McClain about the lack of participation early on, and the need to prevent similar actions in the future. She responded that the initiative did not proceed on the usual course. Changes should be proposed to the Flexible Benefits Committee, she said--composed of four faculty and four staff members and convened by McClain. The committee decides how to handle each proposal. In the case of the initiative, the July proposal was not put before the committee.
In the coming year, McClain said, the Flexible Benefits Committee will address long-term disability, whose enrollment has increased exponentially in recent years, and retiree benefits. In 1996‚97, the long-term disability program saw an increase of 200 to 300 people, driving up the required reserve. An outside consultant is looking at the program to recommend possible courses of action to defray costs.
Though the committee recommended that no changes be made to retiree benefits for those already employed, it will likely address changes for prospective hires. According to McClain, the cost of retiree benefits rose $1.5 million last year.
Senate Assembly also addressed the following items:
The next meeting of the Senate Assembly will be 3:15 p.m. Jan. 26 in Rackham Amphitheater.