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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 22, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 27
A Review of JHU Benefits Begins Today

Recommendations are expected to be made by May

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

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 systems.

"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 Public Health.

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 found at

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 benefits program.

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," she said.

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 administration.

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 in benefits.

"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 time.

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 programs.

"The problems we are now facing are not going away," she said. "We certainly cannot afford to delay confronting these issues."

The last comprehensive review of JHU benefits occurred in 1991.


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