Frustrated by the incapacity of annual state operating appropriations to fund meaningful salary increases for employees, the Professional and Scientific Council on Oct. 12 introduced a resolution that supports including regent university employees in a state employee salary increase bill. The intent is to distinguish operating appropriations from salary increase appropriations. The resolution essentially reinforces the language in the state Board of Regents' annual appropriations requests to the state (executive and legislative branches) on behalf of the universities.
For example, last month, this language was part of the annual appropriations request for fiscal year 2025, which begins July 1, 2024:
- Nov. 3: Presentation proposals for the February P&S professional development conference
- Dec. 1: CYtation Award nominations
"The dollar amounts for incremental salary funding are not included in the Regent appropriations. Historically, a separate appropriations bill provides funding for new salary increases to all state agencies. This legislation typically requires that regent institutions provide comparable salary increases for non-contract employees as provided for contract-covered employees. The regent institutions request to participate in the salary bill."
The Iowa Legislature hasn't proposed the referenced "salary bill" in the last decade.
The resolution is scheduled for a second reading and vote at the council's Nov. 8 meeting.
Medical benefits update
In his monthly report to the council, benefits director Ed Holland, university human resources, estimated nearly 1,500 employees watched the Oct. 4 virtual town hall on cost-sharing changes coming in January to the ISU Plan options. Those participants logged about 340 comments and questions, many of which were duplicates and answered during the Q&A portion of the town hall. Holland and his team have followed up with emails or phone calls to nearly all employees who submitted a question.
He shared a handful of questions and answers receiving a lot of attention, including:
- Premiums based on salary tiers. This option isn't seen very often in the market because it's difficult to explain and administer, Holland said. For example, Iowa State knows employees' salaries -- but not employees' spouses' salaries -- which can result in low premiums awarded to households whose total incomes may be quite high. If the goal is equity, that's been lost, he said.
- All-inclusive copay. Iowa State made a "conscious decision" to implement a copay that covers services offered during an office visit. Without the inclusive copay, coinsurance would have applied to those additional costs, he said.
- Health savings account (HSA). Holland noted an HSA can't be offered by itself and must be partnered with a high-deductible health insurance plan. For 2024, the deductible required by the IRS in a high-deductible plan is $1,600 (single coverage) and $3,200 (family), which he noted are higher than the HMO out-of-pocket maximums in 2024 and create a higher cost liability. An HSA is different from a flexible spending account (which Iowa State offers) because it belongs to the person and the balance rolls over from year to year. Both let participants use pre-tax dollars to pay for medical expenses.
- Individual deductible and out-of-pocket maximum in a partner or family plan. Individual members of a family need only meet the individual deductible requirement ($250 in the HMO, $400 in the PPO) before coinsurance begins. Similarly, one member of a family won't pay more than the individual out-of-pocket maximum ($1,500 in the HMO, $2,000 in the PPO). An individual isn't responsible for the whole family deductible or out-of-pocket maximum.
- Preventive care. The list of preventive services that must be covered with no cost-sharing is set by the federal government -- not the university and not Wellmark -- and gets longer every year.
The enrollment window for 2024 employee benefits -- including medical, dental, vision, flexible spending accounts and more -- opens at 8 a.m. Nov. 1 and closes at 5 p.m. Nov. 17. Enrollment is completed in Workday.
Holland encouraged employees to plan ahead if they have questions and want to have a conversation with a benefits specialist prior to enrollment. With 6,800 employees on the ISU Plan and four benefits specialists, their days are full. To schedule an appointment, call the UHR service center (515-294-4800), email the benefits team at email@example.com or schedule a virtual or in-person meeting via the Microsoft Bookings app (scroll to the bottom of the open enrollment website for a link to your benefits consultant).
In other council business:
- Steve Couchman, chair of the compensation and benefits committee, said tuition reimbursement to employees in the current fiscal year will continue to be limited to Iowa State courses. The change was implemented for fiscal year 2021 as part of cost-saving measures. In August 2022, the council asked university leaders to resume reimbursing for tuition paid to other universities. The benefits program reimburses employees for up to 12 credits per year, one course each in the fall, spring and summer terms.
- The council will sponsor its second annual food drive to benefit the SHOP student pantry in Beyer Hall, Nov. 1-Dec. 1.