Designing a Health Plan, Or How to Deal With Obstructionists…

All the talk about healthcare plans has stirred up some Memory Lane incidents from my past life.

The first real job I had was one that I remember with great affection. As a student I had received much life-affirming support from the Hillel Foundations of Madison, Wisconsin and Berkeley, California. At Berkeley I began my career of teaching Hebrew which I am still doing, now as a lecturer at the University of Tennessee, some forty years later. Berkeley Hillel and Lehrhaus Judaica (the school associated with Hillel) combined to hire me full-time. For Hillel I was the Associate Director, and for Lehrhaus I was the Director of Hebrew Language Programming. My Hillel job included all the administrivia–managing the financial systems, employee benefits, that sort of thing.

Both Hillel and Lehrhaus were, in those days, under the general umbrella of the national Jewish social organization, B’nai B’rith. The relationship was usually positive, but here and there conflict arose as it so often does between parents and children.

B’nai B’rith had a mediocre health plan which we could buy into, but even that didn’t allow family add-ons or provisions for part-time employees. I began to look at possible plans of our own. I met with insurance company representatives, and a small HMO. The HMO was willing to allow us–and anyone associated with us–to become group members.

I next discussed with our Board  whether we could offer this as an employee benefit, and defray some of the cost via payroll deduction. Not only did they agree, but a couple of those Board members would eventually sign up as well.

When I notified national Hillel (in Washington D.C.) that we would no longer need their health plan, they sent me a rather nasty letter “explaining” to me that I couldn’t do this because we were part of their corporation. Luckily, I had been on the job for enough time that I knew something they didn’t know. Berkeley Hillel had its own corporation! When the money was raised to build the building in the 1950s, the donors were not willing to give the money to national B’nai B’rith. Instead, they incorporated separately. I had to file various reports with the State of California each year, so I knew about this. And pretty soon our local corporation had its very own health plan.

One of our employees was man of color in his 50s who had never in his life had a health plan. He had serious problems with one of his legs. But thanks to our new health plan, he received treatment and was able to work until his retirement.

Oh, and my wife was a post-Doc at UC-Berkeley which provided a plan almost as lousy as the one offered by national B’nai B’rith. But I could cover her through our new local healthcare plan. That meant that when my precious, lovely daughter had to be brought into this world via C-section, all of that cost was paid by our local insurance plan rather than bankrupting us.

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