For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.
Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.
The faculty vote came too late to stop the cost increases from taking effect this month, and the anger on campus remains focused on questions that are agitating many workplaces: How should the burden of health costs be shared by employers and employees? If employees have to bear more of the cost, will they skimp on medically necessary care, curtail the use of less valuable services, or both?
“Harvard is a microcosm of what’s happening in health care in the country,” said David M. Cutler, a health economist at the university who was an adviser to President Obama’s 2008 campaign. But only up to a point: Professors at Harvard have until now generally avoided the higher expenses that other employers have been passing on to employees. That makes the outrage among the faculty remarkable, Mr. Cutler said, because “Harvard was and remains a very generous employer.”
In Harvard’s health care enrollment guide for 2015, the university said it “must respond to the national trend of rising health care costs, including some driven by health care reform,” otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act. The guide said that Harvard faced “added costs” because of provisions in the health care law that extend coverage for children up to age 26, offer free preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies and, starting in 2018, add a tax on high-cost insurance, known as the Cadillac tax.
Richard F. Thomas, a Harvard professor of classics and one of the world’s leading authorities on Virgil, called the changes “deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university.”
Mary D. Lewis, a professor who specializes in the history of modern France and has led opposition to the benefit changes, said they were tantamount to a pay cut. “Moreover,” she said, “this pay cut will be timed to come at precisely the moment when you are sick, stressed or facing the challenges of being a new parent.”
The university is adopting standard features of most employer-sponsored health plans: Employees will now pay deductibles and a share of the costs, known as coinsurance, for hospitalization, surgery and certain advanced diagnostic tests. The plan has an annual deductible of $250 per individual and $750 for a family. For a doctor’s office visit, the charge is $20. For most other services, patients will pay 10 percent of the cost until they reach the out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family.
Previously, Harvard employees paid a portion of insurance premiums and had low out-of-pocket costs when they received care.
Michael E. Chernew, a health economist and the chairman of the university benefits committee, which recommended the new approach, acknowledged that “with these changes, employees will often pay more for care at the point of service.” In part, he said, “that is intended because patient cost-sharing is proven to reduce overall spending.”
The president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, acknowledged in a letter to the faculty that the changes in health benefits — though based on recommendations from some of the university’s own health policy experts — were “causing distress” and had “generated anxiety” on campus. But she said the changes were necessary because Harvard’s health benefit costs were growing faster than operating revenues or staff salaries and were threatening the budget for other priorities like teaching, research and student aid.
In response, Harvard professors, including mathematicians and microeconomists, have dissected the university’s data and question whether its health costs have been growing as fast as the university says. Some created spreadsheets and contended that the university’s arguments about the growth of employee health costs were misleading. In recent years, national health spending has been growing at an exceptionally slow rate.
In addition, some ideas that looked good to academia in theory are now causing consternation. In 2009, while Congress was considering the health care legislation, Dr. Alan M. Garber — then a Stanford professor and now the provost of Harvard — led a group of economists who sent an open letter to Mr. Obama endorsing cost-control features of the bill. They praised the Cadillac tax as a way to rein in health costs and premiums.
Look at t on the bright side.
Now Harvard experts can join other Americans in finding out about the health benefits of non-medical prescription meds.
Like the lady who now takes garlic and mustard to lower her blood pressure as she cannot afford her bp medications.
Or the older man who is cutting his diabetes med dosage in half to stretch how long it lasts while adding tumeric to his foods.
Or the depressed teenager whose family coverage is too high for his anti-depressants so is working with natural seritonin enhancers such as hummus, chickpeas and turkey meat.
There’s another unintended consequence to ObamaCare: blackmailing doctors.
Not only are payments lower to doctors but those payments are notoriously slow to flow to doctors from ObamaCare insurers.
So, when an individual doctor threatens to quit taking ObamaCare covered patients the gov’t threatens to cut off those overdue payments!
Some claim these are already averaging $30,000.
What a way to pretend to prevent a doctor shortage.
New doctors have the gov’t number and simply are not joining in the first place.
This cannot end well.
Hmmm… I’ve never been to Harvard, but I know nothing is free and making something harder to get makes it more expensive.
I guess Gruber was talking about these geniuses as well.