David Warner

Sam Richardson, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs, along with other LBJ School professors teach the course “Enrolling in Health Insurance Through the Affordable Care Act: An Austin Case Study.” A requirement for first year master’s students, the course examines the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Texas and issues with the program’s enrollment website.

Photo Credit: Marshall Nolen | Daily Texan Staff

The Policy Research Project, a required graduate course ranging in topics as diverse as children’s welfare and lobbying in the Texas legislature, has introduced a new core topic for the 2013-2014 school year — the Affordable Care Act.

The two-semester course, “Enrolling in Health Insurance Through the Affordable Care Act: An Austin Case Study,” is the latest Policy Research Project at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. The course primarily aims to put together a study of how Texas is implementing the Affordable Care Act, according to public affairs professor David Warner.

“Policy Research Projects are a core course that are policy-related and involve student research,” Warner said. “This is the first on the ACA, but they range from transportation policy for the state to diabetes policy and maternal and child health on the US-Mexico border.”

Despite political controversies surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including a related government shutdown last month, LBJ assistant professor Sam Richardson said the goal of the project is not to make politicized recommendations.

“The purpose of the study is not to say what should happen, but to provide a scrupulously evenhanded explanation over time of what is happening,” Richardson said.

Warner said the study is part of a national effort to study the implementation of the Health Insurance Marketplace conducted by a network of field research analysts in 27 states.

Richardson said the project will have two interrelated parts. The first will focus on analysis of the state’s readiness to implement the Affordable Care Act and will examine the availability of the marketplace. The second focuses on the initial workings of the exchanges themselves.

Warner said students this spring will do a more in-depth analysis of how the online insurance market initially worked out in the state. In order to get a better picture of how the ACA is unfolding, all of the members of the class have become certified application counselors and are volunteering with Foundation Communities, an organization focused on getting low-income Texans enrolled in new insurance plans through the website.

“The students in the class will have a publication that will be part of a national analysis of the implementation [and will] have learned a great deal about the health insurance system and the state government,” Warner said.

Graduate student Jane Vance, who is currently enrolled in the course, said the format departs from the standard graduate class.

“[This] isn’t a standard lecture-based course,” Vance said. 

Health care premiums for employees of American higher-education institutions are on the rise, according to a survey, and the University of Texas is implementing a slightly higher premium for employees this year.

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources surveyed 415 colleges and universities nationwide; of which 24 percent were private religious institutions, 28 percent were private institutions and 48 percent were public. UT did not participate in the survey.

The cost of the University‘s health care plan increased by a few dollars, according to the University’s Human Resource Services website. In terms of medical out-of-pocket cost for full-time employees, the cost of insurance for subscriber and spouse increased by $9.48 per month. The cost for subscriber and children increased by $9.91 per month, and the cost for subscriber and family increased by $18.66 per month.

“The increases are less for next year than I thought they were going to be, to tell you the truth,” said David Warner, a public affairs professor who specializes in health insurance and health finance.

There was talk during the most recent legislative session of substantial cuts in the amount the University would cover, Warner said. He said he expected there to be a much higher deductible or much higher premium compared to last year.

“Costs will have a relatively modest increase at least from the point of view of UT employees,” he said.

With health care costs on the rise, not all colleges are managing to extend benefits to partners and spouses of employees. Of colleges participating in the survey, 56 percent offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees, and 43 percent do so for opposite-sex partners, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Samantha Perry, current chair of the Competitive Insurance Benefits Committee for the Pride and Equality Faculty and Staff Association, said the former chair had several talks with UT President William Powers Jr. last year regarding bereavement leave benefits.

“Leave policies are under final legal review with the University with sick and bereavement leave [included]. The policies are basically sitting on the desk of the administration [and have been] since last fall,” Perry said.

The issue the administration is citing is they’re getting budget cuts, she said, but the benefits the committee is asking for would let the partner pay money into the UT system for benefits. She said the committee’s only options are to ask for benefits and demonstrate that the University is losing faculty and staff and, eventually, students.

Keith Walters, an applied linguistics professor at Portland State University, and the former associate director of UT’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said in a 2008 report by the insurance benefits association that he left the University because “the administration had no interest in finding a way to provide benefits for the partners of lesbian and gay staff and faculty.”

Human Resource Services workers have written and submitted draft leave policies which are currently in the review process. This involves a review by a policy committee made up of employees from across campus. The draft will also require legal review and a review by the UT System, said Debra Kress, acting director for Human Resource Services.

“[Domestic leave] programs to support employees with family problems shouldn’t stop with a marriage certificate,” said Julien Carter, former associate vice president for Human Resource Services, to The Daily Texan in December 2010. “These safety net programs need to be expanded to cover modern definitions of what a family is. It comes down to issues of fairness and equity,”

Additional reporting by Will Alsdorf