Insurance coverage falls short for many U faculty

Erin Ghere

University employees who travel out of state for University business, presentations, conferences or recreation are poorly covered by University health insurance.
Under the current health-insurance plan, traveling professors have access to only emergency care, posing a problem for anyone out of state for more than a few days.
“It’s a concern for many faculty,” said Kent Bales, an English professor.
The University is part of the State of Minnesota Employee Group Insurance Program, which offers faculty and staff members six health-insurance plan options. The program, however, is limited only to a network of hospitals within the state.
“If you’re out of the network, you’re not covered,” said Richard McGehee, chairman of the University’s health-insurance task force.
State officials have said the University is only one client, and they cannot offer University employees a plan to specifically fit their needs.
“(Out-of-area coverage) is one of the two or three major problems that the health-insurance task force has been addressing,” said Fred Morrison, Faculty Consultative Committee chairman.
The University created the task force in 1997 to address problems brought up by faculty and staff. The task force will make a recommendation to the Board of Regents next fall regarding the University’s future with the state insurance program.
Options include creating a University-specific health-insurance program to cover issues unique to University employees.
“The main emphasis (of the task force) is the method by which the University should purchase health insurance for its employees,” McGehee said.
The out-of-state health-insurance restrictions also create problems for faculty and staff members with dependents who go to college out of state, retirees who move to another state and current faculty and staff members who travel for sabbaticals or other extended leaves of absence.
“If you break a leg or get hit by a car, it’s covered,” said Richard Goldstein, a member of the Faculty Senate and a Regents’ professor in mechanical engineering. “But the problem is for routine care.”
Goldstein said his daughter went to college out of state. Under his University health plan, the family had to pay a 20 percent deductible for her medical coverage other than emergency care.
“I don’t believe any of the plans have good coverage for (routine care),” Goldstein said.
In addition to poor out-of-state coverage, several staff and faculty have to jump through hoops to get any coverage at all.
University employees who leave the state have to make special travel arrangements, depending on their insurer. For example, before going on a trip, out-of-state coverage must be paid for immediately, only to be paid back later.
Morrison said only the most expensive health-insurance plan the University offers covers faculty and staff members adequately, but they are still left to pay a “very large supplemental premium.”
Robert Fanhorst, director of Employee Benefits, was unreachable for comment.
“Some improvement has been made for faculty who are living out of state while on sabbatical or other forms of leave, but overall benefits still need to be improved,” University officials, including Fanhorst, told the regents in a September report.
Although major problems still remain, Morrison said the task force has had some success. Next year, out-of-state urgent-care coverage will be available to employees for the first time, he said.
Bales said he and other members of the Faculty Senate had dinner with several new faculty members Monday evening, one of whom expressed concern with the University’s health coverage.
“Our lack of coverage was a significant problem for her and was different from where she taught before,” Bales said.
For early retirees who move out of state, health insurance is a “particularly important issue,” McGehee said.
University employees who retire before the age of 65 are allowed to buy into the state group, but for retirees who leave the state, the only option is a high-priced plan that “covers them very poorly. They don’t have a good option at all,” McGehee said.
Once University employees pass the age of 65 and retire, they are covered by Medicare and offered a separate state plan to compensate for the difference, he added.
The health-insurance task force is also looking at faculty and staff concerns with access to University providers, domestic partner benefits, mental health care provisions and high premium costs.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.