Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Discussion of Health Benefits (Part 3)

Here are the remarks that Professor Richard Thomas of the Classics Department, who seconded the motion, was prepared to deliver had he been recognized.

Madam President, Provost Garber, Dean Smith, Members of the Faculty
In urging that we vote resoundingly in favor of this motion I limit myself to asking whether or not the proposed plan is regressive, that is whether it takes a proportionally greater amount from those on lower incomes. I strongly believe Harvard should not opt to introduce regressive plans.

The President and Provost have challenged the view that the plan is regressive, and the op-ed from members of the UBC in today's Crimson sounds a similar note: "we were very concerned about the burden on low-income employees and therefore recommended an expanded reimbursement program that will provide them with additional protections from high out-of-pocket costs."

With due respect I would submit that the words "expanded" an "additional" are specious and deceptive in the extreme, and would seem to suggest the new plan is an improvement, even progressive, a benefit to low-income employees. In reality the new policy is of course a potential pay cut. It institutes a pay cut for all those unlucky enough to need more than routine health care for themselves or their families, and for those choosing to have children.

It institutes a pay cut for all administrators, faculty and non-union staff, from president down through provost, vice-provosts and vice-presidents, tenured, non-tenured, non-ladder faculty, and post-docs, all the way to a Grade 55 staff member with a 2014 starting salary of $51,182, or a post-doc in the sciences getting around $40,000.

The essence of its regressive nature is that the pay cut is minimally proportioned to income. If the Grade 55 staff member incurs medical deductible and co-insurance costs of $900, she suffers an income loss of $900, a more than 2%  take-home pay cut, no pay for more than one week. For the starting post-doc, no pay for close to 9 days.

If the President or Provost incurs medical deductible and co-insurance costs of $900, she or he suffers an income loss of $900, a pay cut of between one and two tenths of 1% of take-home pay, no pay for a couple of hours. If we are going effectively to install a pay cut to realize savings for the University, this hardly seems a fair way to cut pay. This indeed seems regressive, and it remains regressive even if the costs incurred go up to $1500, so triggering reimbursement for those under $70,000 or $95,000.

Now we can all plug ourselves in and think about what percentage our $900 cost —or $1500 or $4500 would be. Those of us in good health and confident in our continued good health, and those of us without children or with grown children, may be thinking, “well I guess I’ll be OK, and I even save a couple of bucks on my premium, and I can actually afford the $1500 for my own health care.” That is, we may choose to make an individual, and not a universal, response.

That is not, I would urge, how we should be thinking as members of a great university where we all value the contributions of each other and all work together for the common mission. That is not how we should be responding to this plan. I hope this motion will pass and will persuade the President and Fellows to reverse the plan and revisit the process so as to reinstate a plan where our universal university group, and not unlucky individuals, or those with children or planning to have children, are treated equally.