November 2000

Benefits Program Responds to Employee Needs


Catholic Health Initiatives has been listening to employees and taking steps to build a benefits program that is responsive to their needs, according to Renee Tehi, vice president of employee benefits for Catholic Health Initiatives. "One early step in this process is the revision of the national employee benefits program," said Tehi. "We see the national employee benefits program not only as a way to make a positive difference in the lives of our employees, but as a template or model for market-based organization benefit plans." The revision of the national employee benefits program reflects the input of dozens of focus groups made up of employees. More than 250 employees from across the organization participated in the focus groups during the past year. "They included a mix of market-based employees, national office and service center employees, front-line employees and managers," said Tehi. "Their candor gave us the foundation to develop benefits that will best meet the needs of our employees and their families." Tehi, who joined Catholic Health Initiatives last December, noted that the organization is continuing a gradual trend toward the consolidation of benefits administration in order to achieve enhanced benefits, lower costs and improved customer service. "When I joined the organization, Catholic Health Initiatives had already realized significant savings through consolidation of life insurance and long-term disability benefits," she said. "We are looking for more opportunities in which, as an organization of 75,000 employees, we can enhance benefits, improve communications, reduce costs and make benefits more affordable for all of our employees." Communications with employees will also be improved through ongoing updates that will keep employees informed about benefits changes and enhancements. "We are looking at providing templates for brochures and other communication tools that will ensure market-based organizations can provide employees with clear and accurate information on their benefits," said Tehi. In response to employee feedback, the national employee benefit program that goes into effect January 1, 2001, includes a new self-insured medical benefit plan, with improved pension administration services coming in July 2001. Medical plan to roll out gradually A number of market-based organizations are joining the national offices and service centers in rolling out the new medical plan on January 1. "We have been working with the human resource leaders of these market-based organizations since July to prepare for the transition," said Tehi. "We held weekly conference calls and full-day training sessions with the help and support of Blue Cross Blue Shield and Merck-Medco. We also collaborated with the Mission, Finance, Communications and Clinical Effectiveness Resource Groups to develop the plan, the rates and templates for the market-based organizations to use during the open enrollment process." Additional groups of market-based organizations will enroll in the medical plan on July 1, 2001, and on January 1 and July 1, 2002, until all market-based employees are in the plan. "By moving slowly and working closely with each market-based organization, we will implement this national program with a local focus," Tehi said. Medical plan provides open access to PPO network Tehi points to the new medical plan as an example of how the size of Catholic Health Initiatives can be leveraged to improve benefits. "Focus group feedback indicated that employees wanted a medical plan that would let them choose physicians from a broad-based network; provide access to an informed and responsive customer service team; offer benefits consistent with our mission and values; and deliver maximum benefit for care received within Catholic Health Initiatives facilities," said Tehi. "The new plan provides all of these features." The medical plan is self-insured, which means that Catholic Health Initiatives determines the level of benefits and incurs the cost of claims. However, a self-insured plan still requires an administrative partner to process claims, provide customer service and maintain a provider network. Catholic Health Initiatives has selected Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois as its primary administrative partner for the new medical plan. Employees will have open access to the nationwide Blue Cross Blue Shield preferred provider option (PPO) network, which includes 85 percent of all physicians and hospitals across the country. Employees do not have to select primary care physicians or obtain referrals for specialist services. "The Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO has a greater presence in rural markets than any other carrier and nearly every Catholic Health Initiatives hospital already has a Blue Cross Blue Shield provider contract," said Tehi. "Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois also has extensive experience in working with medical benefit plans for large multi-state employers, including several other hospital systems." Not only will employees receive greater medical benefits when they select providers and hospitals within the extensive Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO network, they will receive the greatest possible benefits when they receive care within a Catholic Health Initiatives facility. Customer service team is dedicated to Catholic Health Initiatives As they enroll in the medical plan, Catholic Health Initiatives’ employees will be served by a dedicated customer service team at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. The team is available to answer questions about specific benefits, the PPO network, claims payments or any other aspect of the medical benefit plan. The customer service team can be reached at 866/PPO-4-CHI (866/776-4244) from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, Monday through Friday. Convenient retail and mail-order prescription service is available The medical benefit plan includes a prescription drug benefit administered by Merck-Medco. Merck-Medco’s retail pharmacy network includes more than 50,000 pharmacies nationwide, including all major chains and most local pharmacies. Employees can also receive prescription drugs in the mail through Merck-Medco’s convenient, safe and cost-effective mail order program. New options for retirement savings In response to employee feedback, three new funds were added to the Catholic Health Initiatives Retirement Savings Plan or 403(b) plan during the past year to expand investment options for employees. In addition, the traditional cash balance plan or the Catholic Health Initiatives Retirement Plan will offer significantly enhanced administration services. "Beginning in July 2001, employees and retirees will be able to take advantage of the Internet, telephone voice response and live customer service representatives offering cash balance valuation, retirement benefits modeling and other greatly improved pension administration services and capabilities," said Tehi. "For example, they will be able to use a telephone or the Internet to get their retirement account balances any day of the week." Employees will receive additional information in the spring. Tehi hopes that the continually improving benefits program will show employees how much Catholic Health Initiatives values their feedback. "Our program has a tagline this year, which is ‘Responding to Your Needs…Benefits That Make a Difference,’" she said. "We plan to continue to listen and respond to employees’ needs, both within the market-based organizations and national offices."