The start of the fall semester, the celebration of Reunion & Homecoming, and the upcoming Family Weekend signal the time for faculty and staff to review their health and welfare benefits. Today, maintaining an affordable and comprehensive health and prescription program continues to be a major challenge for many employers due to escalating health-care and prescription costs.

A report by the Congressional Budget Office indicates that about half of all Americans—and 90 percent of seniors—take prescription drugs. These medications help millions of patients fight illnesses and recover from injuries. They also shorten the duration of common illnesses, alleviate pain, and treat life-threatening diseases.  Simply put, prescription drugs save lives and can prevent costlier, more invasive treatments.

Curtis Powell


Spending on prescription drugs is now growing at a faster rate than spending on any other health-care item or service. For example, in 2014, more than half a million Americans took at least $50,000 worth of prescription drugs. Furthermore, drug prices are rising at a rapid enough rate that they are affecting the overall rate of health-care cost growth.

The average annual cost of an employer family plan rose 4.2 percent to $17,545, from $16,834 last year, according to the annual survey of employers performed by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation along with the Health Research & Educational Trust, a nonprofit affiliated with the American Hospital Association. The health-care cost, in the United States, is close to $3 trillion per year or about 18 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP).

To guard against rising medical and pharmacy costs that may impact the cost of the Rensselaer Health Plan, the Division of Human Resources has implemented several comprehensive strategies that have proven to be effective. Some of the strategies include a three-tiered prescription program, negotiating lower prices and payment arrangements with vendors, and implementing health coaches and wellness initiatives.

When we compare the Rensselaer Health Plan to other employers’ plans, using the Kaiser Survey, our outcomes help to show the success of our ongoing initiatives and strategic planning year after year.

Over the past decade, the annual health-care deductible for an individual has more than tripled, from $300 to $1,000. For 2015, the Rensselaer Health Plan has a $250 annual individual deductible, and the HMO Plan does not include an annual deductible.

This year, the average employer family costs $17,545 a year with an employee cost-sharing of 28 percent or $4,955. The employee cost-share for Rensselaer employees for family coverage is 23 percent with an annual spending of either $3,374 or $4,670 per year depending on the elected plan. This means our faculty and staff pay from 6 percent to 31 percent less for family coverage than the average cost stated by the Kaiser Survey.

The 2016 Open Enrollment Period will provide you with some changes to the medical and prescription coverages. In the next several weeks, we will share updates regarding new changes to the Rensselaer health and welfare program as we strive to continue offering an all-inclusive, cost-effective, and valued benefit program.

Curtis Powell, SPHR
Vice President for Human Resources