Many Loyola employees said they were “shocked, disappointed and frustrated” when the university announced in an Oct. 9 email to faculty and staff that the employee healthcare provider will change from Blue Cross Blue Shield – Illinois to Aetna.
Health insurance is open to all full-time faculty and full and part-time staff members, according to the 2020 Benefits Highlights, a document describing Loyola’s healthcare plan. All eligible faculty and staff are allowed to enroll in Loyola’s healthcare during the open enrollment period from Nov. 1 to Nov. 15., according to the university’s human resources website. Employees also have the option to opt out and receive coverage through their spouse’s insurance.
The change, set to begin on Jan. 1 2020, was made to prevent rising healthcare premiums — the amount paid for health insurance deducted from employee paychecks — according to the email from Loyola’s Division of Human Resources, the department in charge of employee management, payment and benefits.
“Now, because none of our current therapists are covered by Aetna … all four of our relationships with therapists must now be broken.”
“Most employers … including Loyola experience an increase of total health care costs … 5 to 6 percent per year,” the email said.
Some faculty and staff criticized the university for a lack of transparency, but they also said they’re frustrated because Aetna offers different coverage than the previous plan.
Under Blue Cross Blue Shield, many employees said they established relationships with primary care physicians, specialists and mental health providers. Some employees said their doctors aren’t in Aetna’s network — meaning if they want to keep using their services, it won’t be covered by their insurance and they will have to pay themselves.
A waiver is available for those who are being treated for a chronic condition by someone not in Aetna’s network. The waiver only covers transitional care — meaning it will cover costs only until it’s safe to transfer care to an in-network provider — according to the 2020 Highlights. Many professors and staff said they were unwilling to switch doctors, citing a close relationship with their current provider and quality of care.
One tenured professor — who asked to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of his family — said the change to Aetna has left his family unsure of what to do.
The professor’s family has a history of depression and suicide, with his son attempting suicide five years ago, he said.
“Our ongoing process of healing has required lots of therapy,” he said.
His family uses a combination of mental health specialists that only take Blue Cross Blue Shield, he said.
“It also takes years to build a good therapeutic relationship,” he said. “Now, because none of our current therapists are covered by Aetna … all four of our relationships with therapists must now be broken.”
Vice President for Human Resources and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Winifred Williams said through Loyola spokesperson Sarah Howell the decision to switch was based on several factors.
“During the process, our goal was to mitigate rising employee out-of-pocket health care expenses while maintaining access to high quality health care providers and services, and mitigating increasing costs to the University,” the statement said.
According to the statement, remaining with Blue Cross Blue Shield would have resulted in premium increases, whereas Aetna would keep rates the same as last year. The university also found 96 percent of covered employees would experience no change with their healthcare providers and some providers used by faculty and staff, out of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s network, would be covered by Aetna’s network, according to the statement.
The administration said they understand the feelings some employees have about the switch, but said the switch to Aetna was made “for the greater good of the majority of employees, and to minimize disruption as much as possible,” the statement said.
“During the process, our goal was to mitigate rising employee out-of-pocket health care expenses while maintaining access to high quality health care providers and services, and mitigating increasing costs to the University.”
Statement from Loyola’s administration
Tavis Jules, an assistant professor of cultural and educational policy at Loyola and head of the faculty council — an advisory body to the president to allow communication between faculty and administration — said the switch was a “unilateral decision” done without faculty input.
Loyola has a system of “shared governance” with the faculty and staff, according to Jules. Several committees exist to allow input from employees before decisions about faculty are made as part of the “shared governance,” according to the university’s website.
The benefits advisory committee — which is in charge of advising the university on employment benefits — wasn’t consulted before the switch, Jules said.
The university didn’t respond to requests for comment about the lack of faculty input.
As a result, the Faculty Council passed an Oct. 30 resolution calling for a “reconsideration of the transition to Aetna and reconstitution of the Benefits Advisory Committee.” The resolution also “urges President Rooney to commit to practicing shared governance in future decisions.”
Some faculty and staff are working to fight back, with one staff member — who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job — starting a petition. The petition has 50 signatures as of Nov. 5, but it’s unknown when it will be sent to Loyola administration, the staff member said.
This decision has left many faculty and staff “shocked, disappointed and frustrated,” according to the petition.
The change in providers is a “burden … [to] those who require specialized care because we are trans and gender-nonconforming, have a pre-existing condition, a disability, require behavioral and mental health supports or are members of the LGBT+ community,” the petition said.
The petition “demands” Blue Cross Blue Shield be reinstated as the insurance provider, or the money saved by the university because of the switch be passed on employees through premium reductions.
“I see six doctors right now, none of them are on [Aetna’s] network,” the staff member who created the petition said. “If there’s no change, I’m going to find a new job.”
Ben Johnson, a Loyola professor of environmental history and president of Loyola’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), said the decision to switch healthcare plans was done in a “terrible way.”
In response, Johnson sent out a multi-question survey to professors and other faculty asking if they were aware of the change and how it would impact them. It also included a section for professors and faculty to voice concerns and comments.
Of the 231 professors who responded to the question, 191 professors — 82.68 percent — said they would have liked “more advance notice,” allowing time to find alternative providers or enrolling in their spouse’s health plan.
Despite the opposition to the new insurance, some professors welcomed the change and said they thought they had enough prior notice.
“Thanks for keeping the costs constant,” one professor said in the survey response form.
“If there’s no change, I’m going to find a new job.”
In another comment, the respondent said they “cringed” when they saw the university was transitioning to Aetna, but said they appreciate costs will remain low.
The survey also asked if “the transition to Aetna [is] worrying to you.” Of the 240 who answered this question, 95 people — 39.58 percent — responded “a great deal” while 20 people, or 8.33 percent, said “not at all,” according to the survey.
Some professors said they aren’t surprised with the way the change happened, with one professor calling it “another shady [Loyola President Jo Ann] Rooney initiative that benefits the bottom line.”
Neither Rooney nor Williams responded to questions from The Phoenix.
Another person who left an anonymous comment with the AAUP survey said health insurance is a major benefit and the change will impact their decision to remain at Loyola.
Johnson said the lack of transparency in implementing the change is a “disturbing pattern” which shows “it’s not just that [Rooney] and her colleagues are out of touch with Loyola’s reality … it’s that they don’t seem to know how out of touch they are.”
Rooney has been criticized in the past by the AAUP, calling her “ill-equipped” to lead the university, The Phoenix reported. A Phoenix staff editorial also criticized her for prioritizing profit over university values. Loyola has also been accused of lacking transparency with its board of trustees, The Phoenix reported.