Faculty, staff will see changes in health plan options

Recent changes to the State Health Plan will impact Western Carolina University faculty and staff members as they choose coverage for the upcoming year during the open enrollment period in October.

Among the changes are the elimination of the Consumer-Directed Health Plan as a coverage option, a reduction in wellness premium credit activities from three to just one – tobacco attestation, and an increase in premiums for employee-only coverage.

On the good news side, WCU employees who include family members in their coverage will not see a premium increase for 2018.

However, before open enrollment approaches in October, WCU employees who include dependents in their coverage are being reminded about the deadline for complying with the State Health Plan’s Dependent Eligibility Verification Audit, said Cory Causby, WCU associate vice chancellor for human resources and payroll. Those employees should have received a letter with a request for documentation of dependents. The deadline for submitting that information is Monday, July 31, Causby said.

Failure to comply with the audit by providing the documentation will result in dependents being terminated from coverage, he said.

The changes to the State Health Plan were approved by the plan’s Board of Trustees last March and are effective for the benefit year that begins Jan. 1, 2018. The board is chaired by State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell. Overall, the changes are designed to provide plan members with predictability in their benefits and to begin lowering the state’s $42 billion in unfunded liabilities for retiree health benefits, officials with the State Health Plan said.

The Consumer-Directed Health Plan was eliminated to reduce complexity and help provide long-term financial stability. About 6.5 percent of eligible state employees are currently enrolled in that option. Because of the elimination of the CDHP, an employee’s individual Health Reimbursement Account will not roll over for use in 2018. The HRA funds will only be available for claims incurred in 2017 and submitted for processing before March 31, 2018.

While wellness premium credits will be reduced to just one – tobacco attestation – the corresponding credit will increase from $40 to $60 per month and will apply to all plan options for active employees. The change is designed to reduce complexity and minimize the potential for members to make a mistake during enrollment that may lead to higher premiums.

In regards to premiums, another change approved by the trustees was to set employee-only base premiums (factoring in the $60 wellness credit) at $25 per month for the Traditional 70/30 Plan and $50 per month for the Enhanced 80/20 plan. For the current plan year, employee-only coverage is free under the 70/30 plan for individuals who earned a tobacco-related wellness credit. Also this year, employee-only coverage is $15.04 per month under the 80/20 plan for individuals who earned three wellness credits.

State Health Plan officials said their decision to freeze premiums for family coverage is an initial step toward improving the affordability of the plan’s benefits for families. Unlike many other states, North Carolina does not subsidize dependent care coverage and, as a result, 80 percent of enrollees choose individual coverage.

Folwell told the trustees in March that his plan is to freeze family premiums over the next four years and not increase copays and deductibles. He said his goal is to attract younger and healthier members into the plan and make it more affordable.

WCU employees who are eligible to enroll in the State Health Plan will be receiving packets of information about State Health Plan options as the enrollment period nears.