For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.
Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.
The faculty vote came too late to stop the cost increases from taking effect this month, and the anger on campus remains focused on questions that are agitating many workplaces: How should the burden of health costs be shared by employers and employees? If employees have to bear more of the cost, will they skimp on medically necessary care, curtail the use of less valuable services, or both?
What’s the old saying? “Be careful what you wish for; you might get it!”
Thomas Sowell has observed that the problem with letting government regulate so much is that the regulators seldom have to live with the consequences of their decisions. It’s the ordinary people who suffer. The same can be said for academics at Harvard (and other universities): state-run healthcare sounds great in theory –the libraries are full of books and articles endorsing it, as well as the conversation in faculty lounges– but make them live by the rules they advocated and they scream “UNFAIR!!”
What they’re being asked to do, of course, is what many of us already do: pay an increased but still small portion of their healthcare costs, which are going up for the university. This, in turn has caused a ruckus, though Harvard argues that provisions of the Affordable Care Act for them to take these steps:
In Harvard’s health care enrollment guide for 2015, the university said it “must respond to the national trend of rising health care costs, including some driven by health care reform,” otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act. The guide said that Harvard faced “added costs” because of provisions in the health care law that extend coverage for children up to age 26, offer free preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies and, starting in 2018, add a tax on high-cost insurance, known as the Cadillac tax.
The quoted complaints are a treat, too:
Richard F. Thomas, a Harvard professor of classics and one of the world’s leading authorities on Virgil, called the changes “deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university.”
Mary D. Lewis, a professor who specializes in the history of modern France and has led opposition to the benefit changes, said they were tantamount to a pay cut. “Moreover,” she said, “this pay cut will be timed to come at precisely the moment when you are sick, stressed or facing the challenges of being a new parent.”
You should take them seriously, because PhD’s in Classics and History are experts in the economics of health care. Apparently they need a refresher in one of the basic rules of economics: When you increase a business or other institution’s cost, it will deal with it in one of four ways. It will cease operation, deciding the expenses are too great; it will absorb the cost; it offset the cost by reducing other expenses; or it will offset the cost by passing all or a portion of it to the consumer. Harvard has chosen this last option. What, really, did these degree-bearing men and women expect?
I know, I know. A continued ride on the gravy train, because they’re educators, damn it!
On the other hand, Professor Lewis is right: this is tantamount to a pay cut, something many of us have experienced thanks to the skyrocketing premiums and massively increased deductibles under our new “affordable” system.
Why should Ivy League academics be exempt?
Congratulations, folks! You got what you asked for!