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Progress on New Healthcare Plan

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February 14, 2006

Northwestern continues to explore significant changes to its menu of healthcare benefits, according to Guy Miller, associate vice president for human resources.

Discussing plans at the recent State of the University address, Miller said Northwestern has engaged the services of benefits consulting firm Hewitt Associates to aid in forming a long-term healthcare program.

To address the trend of rising costs, the University increased healthcare premiums last year by 11 percent, according to Miller.

The exploratory process began last year when Hewitt led faculty, staff and administrators in focus groups to consider how recent marketplace developments could be implemented at Northwestern to reduce costs for individuals and the University and, at the same time, provide needed healthcare and protection against expensive medical events.

Participants included members of the General Faculty Committee's subcommittee on benefits and retirement, the benefits committee of the Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council, administrators at the department and school level and representatives of central administration. Together, the varying groups presented preferences for plans and the University's readiness to embrace contemporary solutions that take advantage of recently authorized tax exclusions in Northwestern's current plans.

The key tenets emerging from the focus group sessions, according to Miller, call for a benefits program that is competitive with those of peer institutions and top-tier Chicago employers, differentiation of programs through innovation, programs that keep healthy people healthy and ensure appropriate care for those in need, the enabling of sound financial healthcare decisions through education and support tools as well as the management of cost increases below market trends.

Hewitt returned to Northwestern in January for a second round of focus groups through which it presented healthcare and wellness plans that match the tenets. Based on feedback, Hewitt is now in the process of refining the plans and calculating costs and premiums.

The results of this process will be used in forming new programs that may be launched in 2007, Miller said.