Negotiations between Aetna Health Insurance and local physicians during winter break resulted in five of the seven practices who previously declined to be a part of Ithaca College’s health care network rejoining the faculty health plan.
The practices include OBGYN Associates, Northeast Pediatrics, Surgical Associates of Ithaca PC, Gastroenterology Associates of Ithaca and Family Medical Associates, said Carl Sgrecci, vice president of finance and administration. Cayuga Ear, Nose and Throat and Jeffrey Lewis DMD remain outside of the health insurance network offered to the college’s faculty and staff.
The changes came after the college switched health benefit providers from HealthNow to Aetna, which took effect in early January.
While a person covered by the new network can still go to outside practices, they will have to pay out-of-pocket and be reimbursed. This may result in paying a steeper price for similar services, since the rates have not been negotiated by Aetna and are typically higher, Sgrecci said.
Sgrecci also said since the two practices that did not rejoin the network are specialists and do not have serious competition in the area, they may not feel a need to be a part of the new network.
“It’s like any other business,” he said. “When you have a practice that is the only practice in town, there’s a question about whether they have to offer a lower rate.”
In response to the refusal of the seven practices to join the Aetna network, faculty and staff created two petitions in December.
Peter Rothbart, a professor of music theory who wrote the petition organized by a grassroots movement within the School of Music, said the petition’s goals were met with the inclusion of the five practices.
But during the negotiation period, many faculty and staff expressed anxieties over the switch to Aetna. Sgrecci said the source of this was a feeling of insufficient communication between employees and the administration.
“Health care is a very personal thing,” he said. “In spite of the fact that we had a [faculty and staff benefits] committee that worked on this very hard for a couple of years, people don’t feel we consulted them enough.”
Rothbart also acknowledged communication difficulties.
“There was no one party responsible for whatever communication issues there were,” he said. “Everyone recognizes it, and everyone is looking forward to fixing it.”
Sgrecci said the administration would probably handle the situation differently given the opportunity to do it again.
Zillah Eisenstein, professor of politics, organized the second petition for general faculty and staff. She said the petition was an “institutional critique.”
“It is important that faculty and staff remain guarded and active in making [their] voices heard,” she said. “There are endless unknowns to how this new Aetna policy is going to function.”
Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, associate professor of politics, opted out of college health benefits in December. While several of the physicians rejoined the network, reports of practices being displeased with Aetna is troubling, Soyinka-Airewele said by e-mail.
“When I investigated, at least two of the practices continued to express serious dissatisfaction with Aetna,” Soyinka-Airewele said. “Since these practitioners accept most other insurers, it raises serious doubts about Aetna’s approach to health management.”
Gossa Tsegaye, assistant professor of television and radio, is chair of the faculty council and a member of the Faculty and Staff Benefits Committee. He said the college will continue to discuss health benefits and ways to improve communication in the future at an employee meeting Feb. 6 in Klingenstein Lounge.
“We really appreciate the involvement and stamina of faculty and staff in not allowing a passive response to such a disturbing change at the college,” Eisenstein said. “We encourage the continuation of [the administration to look for] alternatives to Aetna.”