U health insurance goes online

The Office of Human Resources launched open enrollment online Oct. 15.

by Bryce Haugen

This year, instead of filling out paper applications, subscribers to the University’s health insurance program are adjusting their benefits online.

The University’s Office of Human Resources launched open enrollment online Oct. 15. Faculty and staff members can make adjustments to their U Plan coverage until Nov. 15. At that time, subscribers are locked into their choices until next year’s open enrollment period.

“It’s really important that people do it ahead of time,” said Deb Stull Erickson, a communicatoins project manager for the Office of Human Resources.

Before next month’s deadline, subscribers who visit the employee benefits Web site can change their medical coverage. They can also create tax-exempt emergency funds, known as flexible spending accounts.

Employee benefits officials said more than 8,000 faculty and staff members have already used the paperless application.

The University shifted from paper applications to the online version to save money and increase convenience for employees, said Lori Ann Vicich, communications director for the Office of Human Resources.

Next year, the online enrollment will expand to include dental coverage.

“It’s a part of the University’s effort to use technology in everyday ways,” Vicich said. “It saves resources – human resources.”

Alan Olson, also a communicatoins project manager Office of Human Resources, said the change will reduce errors and add efficiency.

“Now, our employees can actually focus on benefits rather than just stuffing envelopes,” he said.

Some employees have been reassigned to phone banks to answer benefits questions.

“What they try to do is explain the options of each plan, from the very simple base plan to the some very complex health plans,” Vicich said.

She said faculty and staff members have reacted positively to the changes.

Andreas Gailus, a professor in the department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch, said he always prefers electronic options over paper.

“In principle, I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “It was fairly straightforward.”

But David Kohlstedt, geology and geophysics professor, said the employee benefits Web site led him to a “dead end.”

“Give me a piece of paper and a person anytime,” he said. “If Web sites are set up fine it’s not a problem, but this one wasn’t.”

Senior administrative specialist Samantha Ploetz said she plans to use the online system.

“I’m not changing much this year, so being able to change one thing at a time without having to fill out a whole new form will be nice,” she said.

Vicich said the Office of Human Resources has spent a lot of time educating employees about the change. They have received e-mails at work and post cards at home, she said.

She said she hopes faculty and staff members will remember to enroll before the deadline.