News and Events

Update on 2020 Health Insurance Changes

In preparation for the 2020 Benefits Open Enrollment period (October 23 – November 6, 2019), Harvard Human Resources has mailed a postcard to all University employees previewing two new health benefit changes for 2020. HUCTW leaders are writing the note below in order to explain the changes in more detail, describe our Union’s role in discussions around the changes, and offer reassurance that the changes should not have significant impact on Union members. There are two changes discussed below – the first one applies to HUCTW members and the second one does not apply to HUCTW members.

Change: Health Insurer Options

This change applies to HUCTW members.

Beginning in January 2020, Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA will replace Harvard Pilgrim Health Care as one of the two health insurer choices available to all University employees. Every health plan offered in 2019 under Harvard Pilgrim will be available as a comparable plan under Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2020. For example, if you are currently enrolled in a Harvard Pilgrim HMO family plan, there will be an identical HMO family plan available to you under Blue Cross Blue Shield. If you make no health care elections during the Benefits Enrollment period and are a Harvard Pilgrim member, you will automatically be moved onto the comparable Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in 2020. Harvard University Group Health Plan (HUGHP) will still be the other health insurer option for Harvard staff. Staff enrolled in HUGHP will experience no change.

In itself, the change from one health insurer to another is not a change that the University is required to negotiate with HUCTW about, as long as the change does not adversely affect members’ health care costs or coverage.  As a result, there have not been any substantive negotiations between HUCTW leaders and University officials about this change.

Because the plan design details (premium costs, copayments, coverage levels, etc.) will be the same under Blue Cross Blue Shield as they are under Harvard Pilgrim, there will be no change to your costs, eligibility for care, or access to care.And, because the Blue Cross Blue Shield and Harvard Pilgrim provider networks are very similar, the vast majority of primary care doctors and specialists who are “in-network” under Harvard Pilgrim plans will also be in-network under the new Blue Cross Blue Shield plans.

Although the Blue Cross Blue Shield provider network is actually larger than the Harvard Pilgrim network, there may be a small number of issues related to health care providers who are not included in the Blue Cross Blue Shield network, particularly in the area of mental health. In the coming weeks, HUCTW leaders will be meeting with Harvard Benefits administrators to discuss potential impacts on Union members resulting from “provider disruption.” Our goal in those discussions will be to ensure that all established medical relationships with providers will continue to be covered during and after the transition to Blue Cross Blue Shield.

If you choose Blue Cross Blue Shield as your insurer during Open Enrollment (or if you are currently enrolled in a Harvard Pilgrim plan and make no elections during Open Enrollment), you will be issued a new Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance card for 2020 (replacing your 2019 Harvard Pilgrim insurance card). All your questions regarding patient services and billing issues for medical care from January 1, 2020 onwards should be directed to Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA. You will also receive a new Express Scripts prescription ID card (replacing your old Express Scripts prescription ID card), which you can use for all prescriptions from January 1, 2020 going forward. Again, if you are enrolled in health benefits under Harvard’s other health insurer, Harvard University Group Health Plan (HUGHP), you will experience no change, although you will receive a new 2020 HUGHP insurance card (as you do every year).

Change: Coverage Choices for Non-Union Staff

This change does not apply to HUCTW members.

The other change announced on the postcard sent out by Harvard HR is the introduction of new coverage choices and associated costs for non-union employees (and members of three of Harvard’s unions). This change does not apply to HUCTW members, but it was mentioned on the postcard and we have received a few questions about it.Starting in January 2020, non-union employees will have four coverage options with new associated costs: (1) Individual coverage, (2) Employee + Spouse/Domestic Partner coverage, (3) Employee + Child/ren coverage, or (4) Family (Employee, Spouse/Domestic Partner + Child/ren) coverage.

The addition of new coverage choices and costs is a change that the University is required to negotiate with HUCTW about, and those talks took place earlier in the summer.  After requesting relevant data, studying the impact of the proposal, carrying out additional research, and consulting extensively with the elected HUCTW Executive Board, HUCTW leaders rejected the proposed change for 2020. In large part, this is because, although some members would see their health care costs go down as a part of the change, the majority of members affected by the change would see their costs go up. Under the proposed pricing scheme, employees who sign up for the Employee + Spouse/Domestic Partner coverage or Employee + Child/ren coverage would experience a slight reduction in their monthly premium costs. However, this reduction would be accomplished by increasing monthly premiums costs for those with Family (Employee, Spouse/Domestic Partner + Child/ren) coverage.

HUCTW leaders are strongly committed to ongoing work that addresses the problem of high health care costs for everyone in our community.  Our Union’s negotiators have been innovative and persistent over the past 8 years and three rounds of negotiation, advancing ideas and fighting for changes that offer meaningful relief from the burden of health care costs, especially for staff members in the lower part of our pay scales. In that broader context, our leadership’s view on this change proposed for 2020 was that it does not make sense to raise premium costs for some HUCTW members in order to lower them for others. We intend to continue working hard to maintain high-quality, affordable health care for Harvard staff and searching for new and creative ways to strengthen the health plan offerings for everyone in our community.

For 2020, HUCTW members will continue to have two coverage choices, (1) Individual coverage or (2) Family coverage.

If you have any questions, ideas, or concerns about the University’s changes or anything above, please do not hesitate to write HUCTW leaders at or call us 617-661-8289.

You can see Harvard’s communications about these changes here: