University system seeks to control health costs

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2011

FAIRBANKS — To control costs at the University of Alaska system, employees will be forced to pay a higher health care deductible while the university system emphasizes generic drugs and adds a fee for tobacco users.

The changes are expected to take place July 1, reports the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

In December, a university consultant estimated that health care costs would more than double during the next seven years. The plan now costs the university system $65 million per year.

University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty senate president Cathy Cahill said employees are not surprised by the changes.

“I think there’s some sense of inevitability that things were going to go up,” Cahill said.

The sharpest change is in deductibles for employees on the system’s cheapest plan, who will see their deductible spike from $500 to $1,250. Those on the most expensive plan will see their deductible increase from $100 for an individual to $500.

Tobacco users will be charged an extra $50 per month under the modified plan. Also, the university system plans to fully pay for some generic prescription drugs in the future, while employees will need authorization to get some brand name drugs.

“(The University of Alaska’s) current health plan is no longer sustainable and doing nothing is not an option,” said new University of Alaska President Pat Gamble said in a Jan. 31 memo to faculty and staff members.

If the rise in health care costs didn’t raise many faculty eyebrows, a “dependent audit” of spouses and children certainly has.

The announcement of the audit didn’t reach the entire faculty — many learned they were being asked to account for their dependents by a letter in the mail.

Paperwork from the university asked for employees’ birth certificates, marriage licenses and tax forms.

“People do feel there’s a need to make sure people are playing by the rules, but it was handled poorly,” Cahill said.

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