Insurance increases for UNI, staff


Courtesy Photo

Pres. Mark Nook

JACOB MADDEN, News Editor | [email protected]

This past year, faculty and staff insurance at UNI has seen a massive overhaul following the revisions made to Chapter 20 by the Iowa Legislature. Chapter 20, otherwise known as the Iowa Public Employment Relations Act (IPER), was passed by the Iowa Legislature in 1974 and signed into law by then-Governor Robert Ray (R). The law initially established collective bargaining for public sector employees, allowing them to negotiate for professional standards regarding wages, hours, vacations, insurance, seniority, evaluation procedures, grievance procedures and other issues.

The revisions, passed last February, put restrictions on which employees that can negotiate certain issues. Current law now establishes that only “public safety employees” can negotiate terms beyond wages. According to the language in House File 291, a public safety employee includes, but is not limited to, sheriff’s deputies, police officers, park rangers and full-time firefighters.

According to Provost Jim Wohlpart, insurance costs to the university have been going up for several years. That cost increase is covered by general funds.

“In fiscal year 2015, the institution covered about 75 percent of the costs,” Wohlpart said. “The employee covered the other 25 percent. It is now up to 86 percent [that the university covers].”

“In the past, something like insurance was negotiated between the faculty and the board of regents,” Wohlpart said. “With the changes in Chapter 20, the only thing that can be negotiated is base wages. We scrambled through the rest of the spring semester to transition everything that was in the Master Agreement into a faculty handbook, and we worked very collaboratively. Faculty and administrators came together; [a] phenomenal process came to [a] complete agreement about all the things that we needed to move in [to the faculty handbook].”

Wohlpart also said all of the information regarding insurance that the university was legally obligated to share with faculty under the old Chapter 20 rules was shared with the faculty again under the new law. According to UNI President Mark Nook, information about claims and other cost information was shared not only with faculty, but also with professional and scientific staff and members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Previously, AFSCME negotiated separately from United Faculty (UF), the faculty union chapter at UNI. However, this year UF, professional and scientific staff and AFSCME were all negotiated in one insurance pool.

“The decision [to combine the insurance pools] was made off this campus,” Nook said. “I think [the decision] was really made at the DHS [Department of Human Services] level, in deciding that the AFSCME units that reported to the universities, the Board of Regents units, wouldn’t stay in the statewide insurance pool.

“In our case, as we were talking with people, if we created a separate pool for our AFSCME employees that was separate from our faculty, their insurance rates would be out of sight. It was going to be completely unfair.”

This inclusion of AFSCME into the new insurance pool raised concerns for UF President Joe Gorton, who spoke about the problems with the upcoming insurance changes in a speech to faculty members on Oct. 11.

According to Gorton, Michelle Byers, the director of human resource services, proposed two plans to employees. After receiving feedback, a finalized plan was sent out. According to a spreadsheet created by Gorton, the finalized plan would increase maximum out of pocket costs for faculty, professional and scientific staff and AFSCME employees. In-network maximum out-of-pocket expenses are now $1,750 per person or $3,500 per family, up $250 and $500, respectively, from the faculty 2017 preferred provider organization (PPO) plan. The out-of-network maximum is now $4,000 per person and $8,000 for a family. The maximum out-of-pocket for prescriptions has also increased by $1,000 per person and $3,000 per family.

“At the fall faculty meeting [ … ] I took President Nook to the corner, and I said ‘Hey, what’s going on with merging United Faculty with the AFSCME-Merit pool? I mean that really could have some serious implications for the cost of our health insurance,’” Gorton said at the Oct. 11 meeting. “He had no idea what was going on. He had not even been told about it. He didn’t even know.”

According to Gorton, he later talked to Wohlpart about the changes, and Wohlpart allegedly told Gorton that the administration knew that these changes were probably going to happen back in June.

Gorton said that a Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield analyst estimated that without the AFSCME and UF merger, insurance costs would increase around 4 to 6 percent, which is in line with the broader rise insurance costs. With the merger, the analyst estimated a cost increase of 12.5 to 15 percent.

“That’s what she said,” Gorton said. “She’s the Wellmark analyst. For [the administration] to know that that was happening and to not bring it up with [UF] or with AFSCME, was pretty egregious.”

The annual medical out-of-pocket maximum for an individual increased by 16.7 percent, and the annual prescription out-of-maximum increased by 31.25 percent. The monthly premium for an individual increased from $0 to $21 and increased from $337 to $357 for families.

While the cost of insurance has gone up, Nook and Wohlpart maintain that they have taken every step to keep costs fair for all employees at UNI.