What You Need To Know Today About The Employee Benefits Council

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A Short History of the EBC

First off, what the heck is an EBC anyway? EBC stands for Employee Benefits Council. It’s a group that reviews health-related benefit plans, recommend plan-design changes and review and recommend contracts with various benefit-plan providers. The EBC is made up of 12 representatives: six from management and non-represented employees (managers, supervisors, faculty, research staff and the HR Benefits office) and six union representatives (two from ONA and four from AFSCME).

The EBC was designed to work by consensus; that is, it tries to get unanimous agreement on changes to benefit plans. Plan changes can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, in the years leading up to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the EBC tried to contain costs while maximizing coverage in order to avoid paying the so-called “Cadillac tax” that the ACA called for if health-insurance premiums rose above a certain level. Another example is that the EBC chose to limit the massage benefit, because we saw heavy use by very few people, using out of network providers, which drove up premium costs for everyone else.

Choices about changes like this are hard to make, because no matter what we do in the drive to contain costs and provide excellent benefits, some people will feel like they’ve been helped and others will feel like they’ve been hurt. The consensus process is meant to be a check against rash decisions or financial decisions that will disproportionately hurt others. Among the groups represented on the EBC, AFSCME is unique in that we represent employees, in about 300 job classifications, whose wages vary tremendously. We try to ensure that whatever we do, it does not leave our lower-paid workers in a position where they cannot afford their health care. An extra $25 or $50 has a very different impact on someone making $15/hour than it does for someone making $90,000 or more a year.

Through all of the EBC’s decisions, the consensus process has been the glue that has allowed all of the representatives to make decisions that, over the years, have kept our health-care benefits at OHSU affordable and accessible. So what happens when the EBC can’t reach consensus? Well, our contract addresses that. If consensus cannot be reached, then the EBC votes on the decision. Management/OHSU has three votes, ONA has one vote and AFSCME has two votes. If the vote ends in a tie, OHSU’s president casts the tie-breaking vote.

In all our union’s years of sitting on the EBC, we do not recall ever having to vote or ever having OHSU’s president break a tie.

Until now.

Consensus Breaks Down

This year has seen the first cracks in the foundation of consensus decision-making with the EBC. Within the last two months:

  • The EBC was in the final stages of reaching consensus on recommending changing the third-party administrator of our health plan to Aetna from Moda. President Robertson overruled the EBC and decided that OHSU would remain with Moda.
  • The EBC could not reach consensus on whether to offer a high-deductible health plan in addition to our current plan. The chair of the committee moved quickly to a vote and the vote was tied 3-3, with all union votes being against offering such a plan. President Robertson cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of offering a high-deductible health plan.
  • Several years ago the EBC was approached by our consultants with a proposal to raise deductibles rather dramatically, in an attempt to keep premiums down. In a compromise designed to keep health care affordable, the EBC reached consensus to raise deductibles by $25/year over several years. HR Benefits is now proposing throwing this agreement aside and imposing new, dramatically higher deductibles.
  • HR Benefits has also proposed adding a spousal surcharge of $50/month for every employee whose spouse opts for OHSU’s health insurance when they are eligible for health-care coverage through their own employer. Our union contends that a spousal surcharge is a premium increase, not a plan-design change and therefore needs to be raised at the bargaining table not at the EBC. Local 328 has filed a grievance on this matter; our grievance has already been heard by an arbitrator and we are awaiting a decision.

The EBC has functioned by consensus decision-making for about two decades. The breakdown of that model will have consequences far beyond the meeting room of the EBC. It will be felt in paychecks, at doctors’ offices and at the bargaining table.

 Where Does This Leave Us?

Why is HR Benefits proposing these changes that take money from OHSU’s employees’ pockets? Well, they have been given marching orders to save more than a million dollars on the OHSU’s health-care benefits budget.

Why? We have asked and have not been answered — unless you consider “to maintain the viability of OHSU” to be an answer of sufficient specificity to justify taking money back from our members and other OHSU employees.

Who made this decision? Asked and not answered.

Are these marching orders coming from Huron Consulting Group, which just decided that it would be a swell idea to grab a million or so benefits dollars back from employees? Asked and not answered.

How are management votes tallied at the EBC? Who decided how their three votes are cast? Asked and actually answered: they don’t know. In the one case where we voted, all management representatives were in favor of the high-deductible plan. They haven’t decided what they would do if the management representatives’ votes were ever split.

HR Benefits has indicated that the spousal surcharge will not be dealt with until we get an arbitration decision. Make no mistake — we will deal with the spousal surcharge at the EBC if our union loses the arbitration or at bargaining if we win the arbitration. This is not going away.

The proposed deductible changes will be dealt with at the EBC. The EBC has dealt with deductibles in the past. We suspect we will not reach consensus on ending the compromise deal we made and instead imposing new, higher deductibles. That will force a vote. You can see where this is going.

The move away from consensus decisions in the service of taking dollars away from our members and others — for secretive and unspecified reasons — is profoundly dangerous. The EBC has worked and worked well for more than 20 years — because of the internal checks and balances required by successful use of consensus decision-making.

Forcing votes on contentious issues and letting them be decided by tie-breaker votes by a brand new OHSU president just prior to our union embarking on contract bargaining is a risky proposition for all concerned. It unnecessarily raises the stakes at the bargaining table and, more importantly, undermines a model of labor management cooperation that — in the case of the EBC — has been remarkably effective for more than two decades.

Let us know what you think.



13 thoughts on “What You Need To Know Today About The Employee Benefits Council”

  1. For me, health care is already costing me too much! Coming up with deductibles as they now stand is hard enough, upping that dollar amount without also upping employee pay just moves the employee further down the economic ladder. In the meantime, my Department Administrator, who makes twice as much as I do, gets a hefty (thousands of dollars) bonus if she keeps the department budget balanced; the Chair receives $30K per year in bonuses ON TOP of his already hefty $238K salary. Coming up with $3,000+ extra per year for deductibles is really difficult, especially now that housing costs have gone up so much in the past 5 years.

  2. I think they need to go back and read the Employee Satisfaction Survey again. Which way did they want to move that needle? I wonder how much we are paying to the consulting group?

  3. I second that, Jenna!

    I hope everyone takes the time to take the housing and transportation survey before bargaining. The cost of living has increased tremendously in the last few years and for renters it is becoming harder and harder to meet increased rents and possible evictions as property owners are selling to developers. Rising deductibles and copays only add to the stress. I personally have started saving for a deposit on a new apartment if my rent goes up too high (I’ve had a friend whose apartment owner sold the building and now she has to find a new place in 60 days and can’t find anything affordable and she is a single mom) – if deductibles and copays increase too, there is no way to save or plan for major life changes. These issues I don’t think come up for management that are making 80K +. This is a reality for the rest of us who don’t.

  4. WE already have terrible health insurance coverage. How can he just decide to keep substandard insurance? We already pay more than any other group in premiums with very little coverage and MODA denies whatever they feel.. They just stopped covering Flonase and any PPI.. because they wanted to.. I have 2 meds with co-pays of 300$ a month… I pay more than 1/3 of my check to benefits. This just makes it impossible to live any type of normal life.. as a single parent I cant afford child care, I can barely afford my housing costs, I am having to manipulate my other bills to cover what I can and balance them out. We need proof of the kickbacks the people (Robertson and HR) are getting to keep MODA and increase the deductibles as well as the premiums. I should have to declare bankruptcy to go to the doctor at the facility I work at.. what happened to taking care of employees? Why is the 30,000$ bonus not going to lessen our loads? Or why isn’t part of his salary going there? Why does the president leaving getting 77,000 a month in retirement but we have to hope that we have the medicine we need to survive? WE need to speak up!! THIS IS NOT OK

  5. Does this surcharge apply to those spouses who take insurance through their own plan as Primary but are then adding OHSU insurance as a secondary coverage?

  6. I was hoping you could resend the housing/transportion survey I don’t seem to have it any longer.

    Thank you,

  7. I can not believe how much I already have to pay out of pocket for simple tests and procedures. Compared to my previous place of employment where I was covered under a different insurance company, I can tell you that the cost for my healthcare has quadrupled at the very least. If there was an increase in what I already pay I honestly do not know what I would do. There is also the hefty chunk of my paycheck that goes towards parking just so I can go to work every day. If I am being honest I may not be able to afford to work here. This makes me sad because I enjoy my job and the people I work with, but it is the truth.

  8. I find it disheartening that OHSU would attack something that is an issue of quality of life (Healthcare). With increased housing costs and now increased healthcare costs, I find it horrible that a HEALTHCARE institution is asking its staff to choose between housing or healthcare. IF we want to recruit the best, then we also need to show compassion/caring for the people that keep this place running.

  9. OHSU no longer cares for employee’s ! OHSU thinks we are just a person/body they can just replace but GUESS WHAT these ohsu employees are what makes OHSU great! Makes me feel all of our hard work we do everyday means nothing to OHSU now OHSU is making us choice between paying rent or benefits for my family. I know I wouldn’t be able to afford an increase in insurance benefits me and my family would have to go with out. I don’t make the presidentof OHSUs income or get a house on the hill and than just decide to increase our benefits and not think that this effects all hard working employees who are barley surviving as it is. I use to think OHSU cared for employees.

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