Saturday, January 25, 2014

Interview on the Senate Forensic at Penn State: Implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The University Faculty Senate at Penn State will be conducting a forensic session on aspects of Penn State's compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The forensic documents can be accessed at Implementing the Affordable Care Act at Penn State--Employer Responsibility Provisions and the Part Time Employee

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)
The folks at the University's student newspaper, the Daily Collegian, will be covering the forensic.  They were kind enough to ask my views on the session.  This post includes the gist of the interview questions and answers for the Collegian.
1. Can you just tell me about the main points that you will discuss in your presentation?  
We are seeking faculty input into some of the changes that the University is required to make as a consequence of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Of course, most of the changes are mandatory and with no "wiggle" room. With respect to these we hope that the university will inform faculty and staff as it makes the necessary administrative changes. That informational transparency is in the university's interest, because it promotes compliance and minimizes errors made from ignorance.  It follows that we also hope that this communication is made generally and not merely transmitted to unit heads, reflecting the importance and impact of these rules on faculty and staff.  But there are also some ACA mandates to require the exercise of discretion. This may include some issues touching on part time employees. Our benefits administrators are considering the discontinuation of the part time benefit plan and the definition of full time benefits eligible population along with definitions of part time non benefits eligible individuals.   It is with respect to a few of the issues that faculty input might be most useful before policy is finalized.  More importantly, the forensic may serve to provide those charged with the hard task of implementing the ACA at Penn State with the opportunity to brief the university community on those efforts.

2. When will Penn State begin implementing these changes from the Affordable Care Act?
 I imagine they began as it became clear that the ACA would be enacted.  This is a long term project, and one that is complex.  The university, as we understand it, has already begun to implement the set of rules we will discuss at the forensic.   All stakeholders in shared governance--administration, trustees, faculty and staff-- have a role to play in ensuring that conformity to ACA requirements are made in the long term best interests of the university.  And that can best be achieved through robust and appropriate engagement by all stakeholders who together are seeking what is best for us all. I beleive that decision makers tend to get into trouble when they fail to consult and be open about decision making.  A great administrator, when faced with a decision affecting the university and particularly its staff, can with confiedence reach out to staff, explain the nature of the decision, identify and justify the choices made and seek input to ensure that the decisions are soundly made and that nothing important has been overlooked. They are not afraid to modify approaches when good advice is received, and are willing to stand by their decisions when they can fairly be defended, and to defend them publicly. We hope to continue to cultivate these good habits of great administrators in this important area of university administration. 

3. What are the biggest changes that Penn State has to deal with?  
The biggest change we have to deal with is the way the university approaches benefits issues.  That requires rethinking  on two tracks.  The first, of course, is substantive--the ways in which the university can still meet the benefits needs of its administrators and staff in ways that can be harmonized with the long term mission of the university and evolving law.  The second is procedural--how do we continue to develop the good governance bones necessary to make it possible to achieve the first goal.  That last goal will require lots of work on the part of all stakeholders--administration, faculty and staff--to strengthen our respective roles as partners in this enterprise, to embrace engagement transparency that is robust and not merely an empty formality, and to avoid personal politics where it is adverse to the interests of the university.  I am happy to say that we have made good progress in this respect from a year ago.  This forensic is part of that process.  

4. Who will mainly be affected by these changes?  
Everyone will be affected by the changes required by ACA. For this forensic we are most concerned with the way in which part time employees are defined.  The difficulty here is that the ordinary and simple method of determining part time status--how many hours do you work?--is much more complicated when one has a teaching assignment.  Does one work only during the time in the classroom?  Does it make sense to arbitrarily assign  prep time so that perhaps the presumption is that for every hour in the classroom a part time faculty member is counted as also working 2 hours for class prep?  Would it be better to have a year in which these employees actually mark their time?  Are there deficiencies in the way the university tracks these issues that also need attention?   These and related questions are important and require thoughtful attention.  The answers will ultimately reflect policy choices that must be made.  I am sure that in the spirit of cooperation and with a commitment to transparency, we can all work together to achieve a fair result. 

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