Discussion: Harvard Faculty Rages Against O-Care-Driven Health Plan Changes

Discussion for article #231637

I’m not completely sure the Harvard Profs are going to get much sympathy in this situation. In today’s climate, that sounds like a pretty excellent health care plan. It sounds like they have a slightly better plan than gold level on the exchange.


“I don’t think there’s any government in the world that would tax the sick.”

Look south towards Washington DC and you’ll see one.


Umm. As I understand it, health care costs are actually not rising, at least not at the pace they were before the ACA. Harvard professors tend to make salaries that are really very large and I don’t see why they are being so upset.


Yeah. If Harvard is, indeed, claiming that they have to shift more costs to employees because Obamacare is causing healthcare spending to spike, they’re bullshitting – national healthcare spending has been nearly treading water for several years after decades of dramatic increases, and most health economists attribute this slow growth to the ACA. On the other hand, they’re on solid ground saying that this cost-shifting is what’s happening everywhere (and that it’s a feature, not a bug, of the law). And that sure as shit is one luxe health plan they’ve got going.

On the other other hand, it’s awfully hard to understand why a school with a multibillion-dollar endowment needs to make its employees pay for more of their own healthcare to make ends meet…


When I worked at Harvard (not as faculty, but we drew from the same health care plan), employees had a choice of about 4 different insurance providers, some at different levels of coverage. So my question for this is which plans are seeing the changes?

One of the plans is the Harvard University Group Healthcare Plan, which was the cheapest for the employee (the one I used). This is an in-house HMO like Kaiser but only for Harvard employees and students. If this is the plan seeing the changes that makes some sense because health care costs are still increasing even if insurance costs are not rising as fast. HUGHP wouldn’t have the advantage of being able to draw from a larger pool of participants like most insurance companies.

I’m trying to feel sympathy, but the health care plan my college offers me and my fellow faculty members (there is only one, we don’t get choices) has a $6000 deductible and only covers 70% of expenses after that with a maximum lifetime out of pocket of $12,000.

I was paying less for a much better plan off the exchange, but unfortunately, you are not eligible for subsidies if your employer offers a health care plan, so I had to drop my exchange health care for a much crappier and more expensive plan through my new employer. I wish they would drop our health care and give us the money they would have put into it otherwise. I would do better on the individual market.


Harvard has so much money in their Foundation that tuition could be FREE forever.

They are a greedy bunch.

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That does indeed sounds like a pretty nice plan, in terms of the deductible, co-pays and out of pocket numbers. The article is missing what this costs the average employee, and how the features and/or price is being changed? What is the issue, fewer benefits or higher costs (and how much higher) or both?

And yes, the cost shifting is happening everywhere (as noted by marnold above). This is the start of a decade or so long shift away from employer provided/backed insurance. Much like the move from defined benefit pensions that were so common in the 50s to today’s defined contribution plans (401K and the like), healthcare will move from today’s model to a HSA type account over the next 10-15 years. Instead of negotiating a plan for all employees, employers will simply contribut a blanket amount ($5000, for example) to each employees Health Savings Account to force each employee to go find their own insurance through the exchanges or otherwise. Unless we can move the country toward a single-payer system first…

“President Drew Gilpin Faust said in a letter to the faculty that increasing costs were putting the school, which has an endowment of about $36 billion, at risk of needing to cut costs elsewhere like teaching or student aid.”

President Drew Gilpin Faust said in a letter to the faculty that he saw an opportunity to save money, increase the $36B endowment and massage his legacy as the University’s President by increasing the expenses faced by faculty and then hiding behind blaming it all on the ACA


It’s precisely what we’ll see in some respects in corporate Amurikkka. The dead giveaway is the lack of transparency for any of the decision-making or the data and analyses upon which it is allegedly based.

“We is gonna have to make you pay lots more out of pocket.”
“Oh really? Well how did you arrive at these decisions?”
“The data.”
“And where did you get that data? What does it look like? How was it derived?”
“You don’t need all that to understand that costs were going up and this is how we save the universe.”
“Why not?”
“Because Obamacare.”


Very poor article. It does not state what the Harvard faculty were getting before and what they have “lost” under the new plan. They now have what look like very reasonable deductibles, for example. What were they before? Did they have no deductibles at all?

I can’t believe they are mad about the fact that their kids can now stay on the plan to age 26, so what exactly ARE they mad about?


What the article failed top explain is what plan they used to be under. Sounds like it was extremely generous–i.e. employes didn’t pay a dime. but that kind of plan is exactly the kind that gets hit with the Cadillac Tax (for good reason) and so to avoid the tax they offer a slightly cheaper, but still very generous plan.

If Harvard wants to avoid the charge that the change is regressive they cold just give all their lower-paid employees a small raise.

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You explain the point that struck me about the article (and the title is slightly misleading). I may not empathize with faculty who still seem to have a reasonable health plan, but I was focused on this line as the source of the faculty “rage” - Others have expressed skepticism about the story being told by the school and the process that led to the new changes. This is the corporate process of blaming cost increases on Obamacare with no clear explanations of who and how the decisions were made.


What the article did not explain, is just how luxe the plan they have now is. They are complaining because they went from paying something like 0% of the cost to 9%. It may well be that the kind of plan they have now is becoming more expensive even as overall costs don’t grow. But the real reason is that they would probably have to pay the Cadillac tax on expensive plans. Harvard’s costs grow because of the tax, not the plan costs. This is not a bad thing.

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Even if you had tons of money, there is still a good argument why the health care of people who can afford, should not be 100% “free”. A minimal co-pay deters wasteful behavior. Ask anyone in DC about the 5c per plastic bag tax.

I am in favor of free tuition, for totally different reasons.

Well, the other alternative is that everyone buys insurance on a national exchange with part of the cost subsidized by tax revenues. What employers provide are the discounts available to a group, and one national exchange is the biggest damn group possible.

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Jesus – cry me a river. God forbid that Harvard should ask its tenured professors to kick in a little bit more themselves – no, gotta pay for that health plan on the backs of student aid or by cutting back on the number of grad student and part-time teaching positions.

“It’s equivalent to taxing the sick,” Jerry Green, an economics professor, said. “I don’t think there’s any government in the world that would tax the sick.”

Where were you, Prof. Green, when people who were actually sick couldn’t get health insurance at an affordable price, and some couldn’t even get it at any price? Or when employees at places outside of Harvard’s ivory tower found their share of the cost for health insurance climbing at double-digit rates? (And, by the way, my own employer added in the Obamacare provisions cited by the university as part of the reason for the premium increase several years ago, and it did not increase the premium, then or in subsequent years, by more than a very small amount.)


My guess is that the ACA here is mostly a pretext for what Harvard has been dying to do for a while. University faculty are among the employees who value health benefits more so than just about anything else. Harvard is not unique here, but the cadillac tax probably makes the situation seem a bit more urgent. You see a huge dichotomy between faculty and other staff, who would rather trade benefits for a higher salary and sometimes decline coverage for themselves or for dependents because the rich benefit package is so expensive. IIRC, Harvard actually divided its plans so truly, other employees have probably been bearing these kinds of expenses for a while now. Not that anyone with tenure noticed. Also, Harvard institutions are among the most expensive in the country for getting care.


What I gather from the OpEd piece referred to in the article is that they did have deductibles, but almost no co-insurance payments:

But copays for regular physician visits have long been standard and are already part of Harvard’s plan. What Harvard now proposes is further extending cost-sharing to hospitalizations, surgery, and diagnostic testing via co-insurance.

As I said in an earlier reply: cry me a river.

I’m in the same crappy boat. My employer could offer a pre-tax subsidy for healthcare at say, $300 a month. That would still be a lot cheaper than the plan they’re currently offering and employees could potentially get much better insurance for less than they’d be paying through the employer. It’s truly a win-win.

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