Harvard Faculty Revolts Over Obamacare Cost Increases

by Brendan Bordelon

Harvard faculty members are apoplectic over changes to their university-provided health-care plans related to Obamacare — after Harvard researchers spent years promoting the Affordable Care Act.

The New York Times reports that faculty members voted unanimously in November to oppose a slight increase in out-of-pocket costs Harvard proposed for the plans. The university administration cited the need to confront the “added costs” caused by Obamacare provisions. Despite the protests, the university enacted the increase in January.

That hasn’t stopped faculty from waxing apocalyptic about the change. “Deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university” is how classics professor Richard Thomas described it. “It’s equivalent to taxing the sick,” said economics professor Jerry Green. “I don’t think there’s any government in the world that would tax the sick.”

“It seems that Harvard is trying to save money shifting costs to sick people,” said sociology professor Mary Waters. “I don’t understand why a university with Harvard’s incredible resources would do this. What is the crisis?”  

The relatively minor changes to the plan would see Harvard faculty paying a slightly larger, but still small deductible, along with around 10 percent of service costs, up to an out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 per individual and $4,500 for family.

Paying both a deductible and a small amount in what’s called coinsurance is quite common across employer-provided health plans, but the idea was vilified by in an op-ed penned by eleven Harvard professors for the school paper. Administrators cited a famous health-insurance study to defend increasing out-of-pocket contributions, but the eleven professors contend the evidence is outdated and not applicable to the lifestyle choices of Harvard faculty.

Not only is cost-sharing a common and growing part of most employer plans, it’s also a key part of plans offered on the Obamacare exchanges. So-called “bronze” health-care plans provided through the exchanges see co-insurance costs of 20 percent or more, along
with deductibles reaching into the thousands of dollars. The deductible for a Harvard professor’s family will still be no more than $750.

To their credit, Harvard’s health-care researchers, some of whom were involved in the design of various health-care reforms, aren’t buying their colleagues’ complaints.

“Harvard is a microcosm of what’s happening in health care in the country,” Harvard health economist David Cutler told the times, noting that the university’s professors have long avoided the cost increases plaguing most other American workers. “Harvard was and remains a very generous employer.”

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