Next steps in consideration of health care options

Private Exchange Q & A

Q1: I’ve been hearing talk about a possible upcoming change in our medical benefits.  What’s all this about a “Private Exchange”?

In a nutshell, Middlebury, in collaboration with our Green Mountain Higher Education Consortium partners (Champlain College and St. Michael’s College), is considering adding options to our medical and dental benefits (as opposed to sticking with our current one-size-fits-all approach.) The term “Private Exchange” is just the contemporary name for a benefits plan with choices, something many employers have had for decades.

 

Q2: Is this a done-deal?  Is it happening soon?

The implementation of a Private Exchange at Middlebury is by no means a done-deal; at this point the only decision has been to move forward with researching the concept and bringing forward a proposal for leadership’s consideration. Originally, we had contemplated: doing all of the research, coming up with the proposal, vetting it with stakeholders, submitting the proposal for approval and, if approved, implementing the change effective January 1, 2018.  However, the Administration recently decided to extend the project timeline by a full year to allow ample time for deliberation.  This means that if the change happens it will not be effective until January 1, 2019.

 

Q3: Why are we thinking about doing this?

Having one-size-fits-all medical and dental plans is quite unusual for a large employer. It is common for large employers, including our peer schools, to give employees options so that they are able to select a plan that best matches their own needs. To be competitive we need choices, too.  In addition, having various options may actually reduce the overall cost of our benefits, as some employees will elect to purchase plans that are less expensive than our current plan.

 

Q4: But I really like our current medical and dental plans; will I have to change?

The range of plan options have not yet been selected, but we fully anticipate that one of the options will be quite similar to our current medical and dental plans. So, if you want to maintain the same (or similar) level of coverage you will have that option.

 

Q5: Great, but if this Exchange project goes through and I do elect to keep my current plans will I have to pay a lot more than I am now?

We are not anticipating that there will be a significant change in employee premiums for our current plan. (Keep in mind, though, that as medical inflation continues to rise there will be regular premium increases, just as there would be if we made no plan changes.)

 

 Q6: That’s good to know! But if I was interested in changing my benefits, what kind of options might there be?

The project is still in its infancy, so there are no firm details to share at this point. What we can say is that we are likely to see 2 or 3 other medical plan options that are less expensive than our current plan, as well as a less-expensive dental option.

 

Q7: Having to make a choice makes me nervous – how will I be able to make a good decision about which plan is “right” for me?

Great question! What’s “right” for one employee might not be the best choice for another.  Several factors come into play in making a rational choice.  First, what is your health status (and that of your family, if you have covered dependents)?  Do you have chronic conditions?  Do you take expensive medications?  Are you planning to expand your family?  Is elective surgery likely to be in your future?  You’ll also need to think about your budgetary needs and your risk tolerance, since lower priced plans require that you pay more out-of-pocket when you have certain services.  So, for example, if you are healthy and have a little savings set aside that you could use if you experienced an unexpected medical cost, then you might decide to elect the lowest price plan and use your premium savings to build up your nest-egg.  However, if you have a chronic condition that requires a lot of medical intervention you may decide that our current plan is the best option for you.

If Middlebury does go forward with adding options we will have extensive educational opportunities as well as new easy-to-use decision-making software that will help you make a choice that is right for you! Keep in mind, too, that you could opt to stick with what you know, the first year, take your time learning about the new options, and then make a change (if any) during the following year’s open enrollment period.

 

Q8: Who gets to decide whether or not we are doing this Exchange, and if so, what the options will be?  Will employees have opportunities to weigh in?

Ultimately, it will be Middlebury’s Senior Leadership Group (SLG) who will make the final decisions. However, there is much to do before we get to the decision point.  Over the next several months, Human Resources will be working with our Green Mountain Higher Education Consortium partners and Hickok & Boardman (our long-time Broker/Consultants) to vet various possible options and premium structures.  Throughout this period we will have check-ins with key senior leaders to make sure we are on the right track.  Sometime late in 2017 we will have a fully developed initial proposal ready to present and if the Senior Leadership Group is comfortable with the direction of the project, early in 2018 we will share the specific options with the community and solicit feedback.  This communication/feedback will likely come in a variety of venues, such as: meetings with Faculty Council/Faculty Senate, Staff Council/Staff Advisory Team, and the ad hoc Budget Committee to be followed by faculty and staff focus groups, distribution of written materials and so forth.  (If you are interested in participating please watch MiddPoints early in 2018 for updates on meetings and focus groups.) Once the feedback period has closed, the data gathered will be considered, plan options adjusted as necessary and a final proposal made to Senior Leadership Group, likely in early summer 2018.  Assuming SLG approves the final proposal there would then be a comprehensive employee education and communication plan that would last through the fall 2018 open enrollment period, in anticipation of the January 1, 2019 effective date of the new plans.

 

Q9: OK, so it sounds like there isn’t anything I need to do at this point.  But who should I speak with if I have other questions or concerns?

If you have general questions that you think other employees may also have, consider sending them to middpoints@middlebury.edu; questions of general interest will be posted (anonymously) in upcoming Q & A articles, and answered by Human Resources. If you have a particular or private concern, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at cmullins@middlebury.edu; I’m happy to help!

–Cheryl Mullins