Topic: Administrative

March 21, 2008

Though rising health care costs across the nation are driving increases of up to 7 percent in some "traditional" medical insurance premiums at Ball State, the vast majority of participating employees will experience only 3 percent increases next year.  And a small proportion — those using one of two high deductible options — actually will see modest reductions in annual premiums.

The Ball State Board of Trustees approved a new schedule of monthly health insurance premiums for employees at its regularly scheduled March 21 meeting on campus.

Board members also heard a related presentation from Patty Hollingsworth, director of employee health enhancement, on the development and implementation of a number of new wellness initiatives aimed at promoting healthier lifestyles and containing Ball State's health care costs long term. They approved, as well, a University Senate proposal amending Ball State's promotion and tenure policy regarding the evaluation of faculty scholarship and the Beneficence Pledge guiding student, faculty and staff conduct.

Some premiums rise, others fall

Beginning with the start of the new fiscal year in July, university employees on 12-month appointments and enrolled in the traditional family medical plan will contribute an additional $47.20 (7 percent) per month to participate.  Single employees registered for traditional health care coverage will see their premiums increase by the same percentage, or $18.18 per month. The university's portion of each employee's monthly health insurance costs will increase $141.60 and $54.55, respectively, for family and individual coverage.

Meanwhile, employees signed up for Ball State's low deductible, preferred provider organization (PPO) insurance, will experience only a 3 percent rise in their monthly premiums — increases of $11.82 per month for family PPO participants and $4.56 a month for single employees using the plan.  About 90 percent of eligible university staff uses the PPO option.

Decreases in premiums take effect this summer for university employees covered by either of two high deductible insurance plans, the so-called wellness and health savings account (HSA) qualified options. Employees enrolled in the family wellness plan will see premiums drop by 3 percent, or nearly $9 a month; single participants will save $3.36 a month. HSA plan premiums will fall 10 percent, or roughly $23 a month for families and more than $8 for single employees.

"As a self-insured program, claims drive premiums, and we are pleased this year to have more reasonable increases," said Thomas Kinghorn, vice president for business affairs and treasurer. "In the longer term, the university's emphasis and recent successes with employee wellness programs and the smoke-free environment are expected to dampen the normal level of anticipated health care cost increases."

The reductions in premiums for employees selecting the high deductible wellness and HSA options stem from university administrators continuing to try to find the right balance of charges for these still relatively new insurance alternatives, added William McCune, associate vice president, controller and business services. So far, employees covered under those plans have proven relatively healthier than participants in Ball State's other self-funded insurance options.

"As a result, though our aim is not to create any kind of incentives toward any given plan, I think we want to be fair in reflecting savings back to employees willing to participate in some of these more proactive options — keeping in mind, too, our need to distribute costs equitably across all of the plans."

The university's funding of health insurance for retirees also will reflect a decrease in premiums this year, Kinghorn noted.

President Jo Ann M. Gora welcomed the new health insurance information, adding that Ball State's wellness initiative, a key component of the university's strategic plan, will play a critical role in long term containment of health care costs. At the same time, she stressed that this year's savings from lower insurance cost increases allow more financial resources to be applied in other areas, especially faculty salaries.

"Balancing the various budget needs of the university is always a tremendous challenge," said Gora, "but we made a commitment to maximizing faculty salary increases, and our health care savings play an important role in helping us keep that pledge.  There's no question that our improved performance in containing health care expenses helps make that possible."

A matter of time

In her follow up presentation, Hollingsworth suggested the opening of the new Ball State Employee QuickClinic last November as one possible reason that the university is seeing a decline in health care claims.  Between Thanksgiving and the end of February, the clinic had almost 1,000 visitors seeking help with common illnesses and minor injuries, at costs to the university generally far lower than those associated with an insurance claim for similar services received elsewhere.

Otherwise, Hollingsworth agreed, it is probably too early in the university's drive promoting better health and wellness in the workplace to think those efforts are having substantial impact on overall health insurance costs. But she's encouraged by the success of early wellness offerings such as the Start Where You Are walking program (more than 500 registrants) and the 12 Days of Fitness exercise and self-care feature during the holidays (200 plus). She believes that it's only a matter of time before that correlation becomes clearer.

"We're starting to be able to put together some numbers," said Hollingsworth, noting that 727 members of the campus community registered for the "10-in-10" program — wherein participants try to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks — and that more than 800 responses were received in answer to a recent marketing class survey of health habits and the university's wellness programming.

"In those more than 800 responses, 107 people accepted our invitation to share a personal success story," Hollingsworth related, "including one person who said our encouragement to do self-care prompted her to carry through with a skin cancer screening.  It was something she'd been meaning to schedule for some time but just never got around to. Well, she said it turned out that she does have skin cancer and she does need to have surgery, but now at least she's getting it taken care of."

21st century 'Model for Scholarship'

In an attempt to align all university, college and department governing documents with key aspects of the Ball State's strategic plan, the University Senate proposed an amendment to a portion of university policy regarding faculty promotion and tenure. As approved by the board of trustees, the change struck language previously indicating that faculty under review for promotion and/or tenure would be evaluated, at least in part, on the basis of "research, publication, creative endeavors, or other scholarly productivity." Now, instead (and in accordance with Goal 2 of Education Redefined: Strategic Plan 2007-2012), "departments will recognize and reward the four areas of scholarship: discovery, integration, application, and teaching."

Bruce Hozeski, professor of English and University Senate chairperson, said the new wording incorporates portions of the "Model of Scholarship" put forth by American educator and former Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching President Ernest Boyer in a context both "more contemporary and in tune with what we do at Ball State."

"Besides getting into agreement with the strategic plan, part of the aim here is to take some of Boyer's classic labels like 'teaching' and 'service' and try to work them in a more comprehensive sense of scholarship, which in Ball State's case also can include concepts like 'entrepreneurial' or 'collaborative' or 'immersive,'" said Hozeski.

Over time, the university's respective colleges and departments also are expected to revise their particular governing documents to reflect the same amendment, Hozeski added, though the University Senate believed the process should begin with the general university policy on promotion and tenure.

In an accompanying proposal, Senate members also asked for the board's official endorsement of the Beneficence Pledge, the student-inspired academic honor code by which Ball State students, faculty and staff promise to "practice academic honesty, maintain high standards of scholarship, act in a socially responsible way, [and] value the intrinsic worth of every member of the community." 

Hozeski said research is beginning to show that such statements do help to establish a general "culture of integrity" on campus, and so that's "an important message that everyone associated with a college or university should want to support."

The senate chair said board action on the pledge is a signal, as well, that senior university leadership values the ideas and opinions of students and faculty. The Student Government Association first acted on the pledge in fall 2006; the University Senate passed it in February.

The board also expressed unanimous support for the measure.