The university sets off today on a comprehensive
review of its full benefits package, with the goal of
designing a more cost-effective program while maintaining
Johns Hopkins' competitive breadth of offerings.
The undertaking was prompted by the steadily rising
cost of health care, compounded by the economic downturn in
recent years and the incremental increases in cost of other
benefits areas, said Charlene Moore Hayes, vice president
for human resources.
Hayes said that the review will be an open, inclusive
and somewhat fast-tracked process that will help the
university position itself for the future. The university
will examine current offerings, look at peer institutions
as benchmarks and consider alternatives to existing
practices to bring about more efficient delivery
"The reality is that we have to do something to
contain cost," Hayes said. "Medical cost is the biggest
increase; it's rising every year. We really need to think
strategically of how we manage our cost, and possibly even
cut cost, while we maintain our competitive edge in terms
of our benefits package."
A 15-member universitywide Benefits Advisory Committee
will lead the overall effort. The co-chairs are Fred
Puddester, executive director of budget and financial
planning and analysis, and Donald Steinwachs, chair of the
Department of Health Policy and Management at the School of
The review will be conducted in three phases. First,
faculty and staff will receive an e-mail that provides a
link to a confidential Web-based benefits survey. The
survey will solicit input on the existing range of benefits
in terms of satisfaction and importance and how well the
benefits are being communicated. Employees also will be
asked to share their views on health care, and to offer
suggestions on what changes they would like to see made to
the benefits package.
The survey, which has an April 2 deadline, can be
The second phase of the review will be to conduct
seven focus groups. The Homewood and East Baltimore
campuses will each have three separate sessions for
faculty, senior staff and support staff, and SAIS will have
one incorporating its three constituencies. Employees from
JHU's Howard County and Montgomery County campuses will be
invited to attend the meetings at SAIS. The review will not
cover the Applied Physics Laboratory, which has its own
Hayes, who joined Hopkins in November, said that the
focus groups will provide a chance to receive direct,
detailed feedback from employees on the full range of
benefits, which include health insurance, disability, life
insurance and college tuition grants and remission.
"What we are hoping to do is use the focus groups to
expand on information we get from the Web-based survey,"
In the last stage of the review, the advisory
committee will weigh the options and develop a list of
recommendations that will be presented to senior
Johns Hopkins has hired Mercer, a human resources
consulting firm, to gather data from the survey and conduct
the focus groups.
Steinwachs said that the purpose of the advisory
committee is to represent faculty and staff and reflect
their interests and concerns pertaining to possible changes
"Controlling the growth in benefits costs is
important, particularly the cost of health insurance, which
has been increasing much faster than inflation. At the same
time, controlling costs cannot mean reducing essential
benefits," Steinwachs said. "The committee will be
exploring options and recommending solutions that will
allow all faculty and staff to have the benefits they need
at an affordable cost to them and to JHU."
Steinwachs said that failure to address the rising
price tag of benefits could mean the university would need
to shift more of the costs to its employees. The committee
wants to minimize any such cost impact, he said.
One thing the review might uncover, he said, is that
an existing benefit is not being fully utilized and may
need to be scaled back.
"One way to ap-proach this overall issue is to offer
more benefits options with different prices that match
different sets of benefits. Another way is to tailor the
benefits package to meet employee preferences and exclude
benefits that are not valued," he said. "The advisory
committee will be looking at a range of options and will be
seeking to recommend approaches that will best serve all
university faculty and staff."
The committee's goal is to complete the survey by the
end of May. Hayes said that the university hopes to
implement recommended changes in time for the next open
enrollment period, which is in November. It is possible,
Hayes said, that some recommendations will be accepted and
not implemented right away but rather phased in over
She said that Johns Hopkins is certainly not alone in
dealing with benefits-related issues. Sitting atop the
agenda of the next meeting of the Ivy Plus Network, a group
of peer institutions to which Johns Hopkins belongs, is the
rising cost of health care and its impact on benefits
"The problems we are now facing are not going away,"
she said. "We certainly cannot afford to delay confronting
The last comprehensive review of JHU benefits occurred