FS rips university health care system

By Markos Moulitsas

The Faculty Senate on Wednesday attacked the university employee health care system and reacted angrily to the rejection of a motion in the University Council that would have given faculty more power in that body.

The FS discussed a petition signed by some faculty requesting the health insurance system for university employees change its policy.

University employees are covered by Central Management Services (CMS), the state agency tasked with handling the benefits of all state employees. To handle employee claims, the state has contracted a private firm, Equicor.

The petition specifically questions Equicor’s practice of “balance billing,” which forces the employee to pay all medical costs above what Equicor deems is “reasonable or customary” for the specific procedure in the region.

The petition states, “This practice (balance billing), which sometimes amounts to what Hillary Clinton called ‘gouging,’ drives up the cost of medical care in ways that potentially know no limits. It adversely affects both the consumer and the insurance company he or she belongs to.”

The petition requests CMS/Equicor prohibit balance billing, stating it would “help control costs for the Equicor system.”

“It would be a rather large job,” said Joann Bergren, assistant manager of the insurance office. “Since Central Management Stores covers all state employees, the whole state would have to be involved in the negotiations.”

Bergren said CMS was conducting negotiations with DeKalb Clinic to offer a point-of-service contract, which if implemented, would put much of this issue to rest.

A point-of-service contract would sign up member doctors who would charge a pre-established fee for all medical services, ending the possibility of employees paying extra for overcharged procedures.

“It’s one way to address this issue,” Bergren said. However, she cautioned negotiations were still under way, so the resulting contract could end up looking different.

Despite the negotiations with the DeKalb Clinic, she said there were no similar talks going on with other health care providers in the DeKalb area, like Kishwaukee Medical Associates Ltd.

Some faculty expressed concerns about the quality of the health care they were receiving.

Robert Albritton, associate professor of political science, said, “Ever since I arrived here 10 years ago my health care benefits have eroded. I can’t get anything approaching the benefits I had when I first arrived here (and) I tend to blame the state for that.”

Bergren said any erosion of benefits could be blamed on the state. However, she said there had been some improvements to the system.

“In many cases benefits have been raised,” Bergren said. “It’s also important to note that premiums have significantly not changed in 10 years. They’ve shifted more of the cost to the state and away from the employer.”

The FS also discussed the University Council’s failure to adopt a proposal to allow the university’s Bylaws to be amended by two-thirds of members present at a UC meeting.

Curtiss Behrens, president of the FS, said there were several changes to the Bylaws faculty were unable to pass because of faculty leaving early or not showing up at all.

“Faculty got frustrated with that,” Behrens said.

The proposal was voted down when concerns were raised that the faculty had a majority of the members in the council. If the faculty members voted together, they would be able to push anything through the council despite any other group’s potential objections.

Some faculty senators expressed frustrations with the proposal being shot down.

Albritton said, “Given that the faculty should predominate (on faculty personnel issues), I find it reprehensible that other groups seek to dominate.”

He said the UC’s decision was “a rupture of the social contract” that “must have been at one time negotiated” between the faculty and the rest of the university.

Other senators attacked the lack of cohesiveness in the faculty delegation to the UC and the disregard for their duties they exhibited.

“If you are in the University Council you should vote your conscience, but administrators vote on bloc, and faculty sometimes don’t vote at all,” said Jo Anne Fox, professor of theater arts.

Therefore, faculty representatives to the UC should try to take into account the concerns of the FS when deciding how to vote, she said.

“If you accept a place in the University Council you should at least vote. We simply must take it seriously or the (faculty) senate will be just a body that passes resolutions,” Fox said.