Health care among the topics of Faculty Senate’s final meeting of 2016-17

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — University health care options in 2018, Faculty Senate accomplishments over the past year, and inclusion of the University report bias website on syllabi were some of the topics the Faculty Senate discussed during its meeting Tuesday (April 25), the last session of the academic year.

Outgoing Chair Jim Strauss noted that the Faculty Senate produced 115 forensic, legislative and consultative reports in the past academic year on a range of topics. Strauss said the Faculty Senate actively included students in its governance during the past year, including work on issues such as a report with recommendations on a smoke-free University and syllabi links for student mental health services.

On Tuesday, the focus on students included a performance from two student singers, Melissa Elliott and Jon Harris, who performed songs from “Beauty and the Beast.”

Other areas of Faculty Senate focus in 2016-17 included: scholarship support for students; diversity; library space; health benefits and University governance. One upcoming change is the addition of two nonvoting faculty senators who will provide representation on standing committees of the University Board of Trustees beginning in September, bringing the total to six faculty senators who can provide input. Also Tuesday, Faculty Senate received a report on the health care options that are being developed for 2018.

Renee L. Borromeo, chair of the Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits, said several scenarios for health care benefits possibilities have been prepared and reviewed, being mindful of adherence to the six guiding principles the Faculty Senate approved in March 2016. Those include offering a choice of health care plan; keeping overall cost sharing at 75 percent contributed by the University and 25 percent for employees, and maintaining affordability and equity in both premium contributions and total out-of-pocket costs. The work on health care options was done in collaboration with the Office of Human Resources, the Joint Committee on Insurance and Benefits, the Committee on Faculty Benefits, and the Health Care Advisory Committee.

A look at the proposed plan changes expected for the upcoming year was offered by Gregory Stoner, senior director of compensation and benefits. Stoner said both of the University’s health care options — PPO Blue and PPO Savings — will remain as options. They will incorporate income-based tiers that will be used to determine deductibles and the health savings account “seed” provided by the University.

Under the PPO Blue Plan, deductibles will decrease or remain the same for employees earning less than or equal to $60,000; deductibles will increase for employees earning more than $60,000. There will be lower employee premium contribution percentages, and all other plan design features will remain the same.

Similarly, for employees covered under the PPO Savings Plan, there will be an income-based, four-tiered structure for determining the University’s contributions to the health savings account (HSA). The “seed” — money the University contributes at the beginning of each year to employees’ HSAs — will increase or remain the same for employees earning less than or equal to $60,000; and will decrease or remain the same for employees earning more than the median salary of $60,000. There will also be slight increases to employee premium contribution percentages. Other plan design features will remain the same.

Overall, the changes are expected to result in a reduction in anticipated total out-of-pockets costs for those in the PPO Blue Plan, and in some cases, for those in the PPO Savings Plan.

Stoner noted that under the Affordable Care Act, health care is defined as affordable if the employee premium coverage for an individual is under 10 percent of a person’s income. Under the Penn State plans, total out-of-pocket costs — not just premiums — fall near or below that 10 percent threshold.

“Our benefits are affordable and very competitive,” Stoner said.

Other expected changes are: employee premiums for couples both employed by Penn State and covered under the same health care plan will be based on the higher-paid spouse; and the University’s offering of a short-term disability plan, which has been requested by employees.

The University’s current contract with its medical and prescription drug third party administrator, Highmark, ends Dec. 31, 2017. Stoner said the University is currently in the process of seeking the best and final offers from vendors in a competitive process that Penn State hopes will result in lower overall costs, positively impacting employees and the University. The money the University saves from negotiating new medical and prescription drug administrative contracts can be applied to other efforts that could benefit employees, such as salary increases. A final selection is expected in May.

The Faculty Senate also:

—Heard from Provost and Executive Vice President Nick Jones on several topics, including Greek life and the action the University has taken recently following the tragic death of a student pledging the former Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. The fraternity has been permanently banned from returning to campus.

—Voted to modify the Faculty Senate policy to require that syllabus for each course include the University’s report bias website, equity.psu.edu/reportbias. The vote followed a request from the University Park Undergraduate Association and recommendation from the Educational Equity and Campus Environment Committee.

—Voted to approve a report and recommendations from the Committee on First-Year Students’ Well-Being and Safety . The committee, which launched after the recommendations of the University’s Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, looked at the task force recommendation to create a course for first-year students exploring well-being and safety, and ways to prevent sexual misconduct and alcohol misuse. That committee mission was expanded to include financial well-being and literacy as well.

Among the committee’s recommendations are: allocating the resources to update the University’s SAFE (Student Alcohol Feedback and Education) and AWARE - Sexual Assault Awareness learning programs; ensuring that all students, staff and faculty have access to Bystander Intervention programming (Stand for State); and regular assessments of programs focused on alcohol misuse and sexual misconduct.

The recommendations will be forwarded to the president for consideration.

—Heard an advisory report on library space planning; and

—Voted to accept recommendations from the Committee on University Planning on classroom scheduling, following changes that came with the University’s transition to LionPATH and CollegeNET Optimizer for class and event scheduling. The recommendations, aimed at improving effectiveness and efficiency, will be forwarded to the president for consideration.

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Last Updated April 26, 2017