Friday bargaining opened not with a bang but with a whimper. The Administration team again asked for a caucus at the beginning of our meeting. After waiting for them to collect their thoughts, Thomas began the discussion by outlining a few of our general healthcare related interests. In case you missed them:
- We’re interested in streamlining the initial enrollment and re-enrollment process for graduate employees, during the academic year as well as summer term.
- We’d like to see an improvement in the affordability of health insurance for all graduate employees.
- We’re concerned with providing continuous insurance coverage for graduate employees experiencing gaps in employment.
Administration brought a witness Friday, Rachel Forslund. If you’ve ever called or visited Student Health Services about your health insurance (and honestly, who hasn’t?), then you’ve met Rachel.
Rachel explained the current process of insurance enrollment for graduate employees. When the graduate employee turns in health insurance paperwork, they must wait until Rachel can verify their employment. In come cases (cough—slow departments—cough), there can be uncertainty whether or not a student even has an appointment, often well into October!
There’s another layer of complexity for international students. Since they are required to have health insurance as soon as they are a student, they are signed up for a student plan through Aetna at the beginning of the term. The start date for Aetna insurance coverage begins September 11th. The start date for PacificSource is October 1st. If they need medical treatment between September 11th and October 1st and thus create a claim under their Aetna insurance, they are required to keep BOTH Aetna and PacificSource insurance coverage. Add to that a possible delay in appointment for an international student employee, and that’s a recipe for financial disaster!
If you’re asking yourself, “why can’t they just make the insurance coverage start dates the same?” you’re in good company. We asked about that too, but were informed that the person who could answer that question would be at the table Monday. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t get a firm answer then, either!)
We talked briefly about gap coverage for graduate employees. Administration said they tried providing gap overage through Aetna last year, but that Aetna opted to discontinue that service. We didn’t get very far in this conversation, so you’ll hear about it again in the future.
The conversation turned to summer enrollment. CGE is invested in protecting our graduate employees from lapses in coverage. If a PI says a student will be on assistantship over summer, they don’t have to apply for summer coverage. If that “assistantship” turns into hourly work, the graduate employee does have to turn in paperwork, but might not know it! We’ve seen a number of students who ended up without insurance over summer in situations like that. That’s why we’re talking about opting-out of summer, rather than opting-in. Both teams agreed that we still need to work on ways to communicate a potential opt-out process, so look forward to more on that, too.
After discussing challenges in enrollment, we moved on to discussing “comparable care”. This is the University’s way of determining whether a student’s existing health insurance (from outside PacificSource) is comparable to the mandatory plan provided by PacificSource. If coverage is comparable, the student is awarded a waiver to opt-out of PacificSource insurance. Rachel mentioned that many requests for waivers are denied based on high deductibles or out of pocket amounts. Also, comparable plans must also include vision and dental on par with what PacificSource offers.
Our last topic on Friday was premiums. This is where the Administration team really perked up (when money is on the table, who’s surprised?). We suggested that forcing low income graduate employees to pay a greater percentage of their income to insurance was not equitable. Other groups of employees pay between 3% and 5%, while we’re stuck with 15%. A number of people on the OSU Admin team interjected that the situation was “complicated” because “regular” employees under 0.5 FTE have their insurance contribution pro-rated. But why does it have to be? The state of Oregon offers the Oregon Health Plan (no premium, no deductible) option to many graduate employees, but OSU maintains we should pay more than other kinds of OSU employees for our health insurance. Who thinks that’s fair?
We ended Friday’s discussion with the agenda for Monday. We’re continuing the healthcare talk, and possibly discussing parking (Article 22). Witness for OSU Administration include Steve Nash (Payroll), Rachel Forslund (Student Health Service), and George Voss (SHS).
True fact, we learned that the OSU Admin team doesn’t have a set meeting time outside of our bargaining sessions. No wonder they’re always asking to caucus!
Monday’s bargaining meeting was more of the same. A witness for the Administration team, George Voss, described the contract OSU has with PacificSource. There is no language for “comparable care” in the contract. George emphasized that high deductibles and out of pocket costs are barriers to waivers in most cases.
This meeting, we revisited summer enrollment. Another witness, Steve Nash, explained some of the possible limitations of moving to opt-out for summer enrollment. A number of questions were brought up on both sides of the table. How should summer auto-enrollment look for graduate employees who don’t have spring appointments, but do have summer and fall appointments?
One of the Administration team members made a great point. We need to make sure we’re helping out students get enrolled in health insurance if they want it. Departments need to send messages to students. CGE agrees, and we think transparency about the enrollment system will help a lot of student get the healthcare they want.
The Administration team said they were interested in opt-out for the academic year, but we need more conversation on the subject of summer coverage. CGE will be presenting contract language for the opt-out next bargaining session!
Next, the conversation switched to parking. Other OSU employees are allowed to pay for parking permits over time, through a pre-tax deduction to their paycheck. Why can’t graduate employees? It was argued that graduate employees aren’t employed consistently enough to set up payroll deductions. However, adjuncts and other temporary employees are able to set up this service. Administration’s witness Steve said he would research ways to implement a short-term payroll deduction (3-month rather than 9-month deduction). Information forthcoming!
Our next bargaining session is Friday, February 19th at Westminster. Here’s our agenda:
- More insurance talk – this time we’ll take on premiums in greater depth.
- Salary! We’re starting the salary conversation, and hope to address every part of the Article.
- We’ll bring up parking again. Administration proposes to strike the Article, we think there’s a better way.
See you Friday!